Debating William & Mary, sports and culture since 2011. Updated every Wednesday.

William and Mary

In Football, William & Mary on August 12, 2011 at 9:21 am

January 22, 1689. A Convention Parliament meets in London to discuss the next regent of England.

On one side of the aisle is William of Orange, later William III. Having recently invaded England and disposed of James II, William wanted sole power to reign as monarch over the English people. Opposed sit a group of loyalists who felt if James II could not be restored to the crown, the only suitable rejoinder would be to promote William’s wife Mary, daughter of James II, to the throne.

By February 6, a consensus is brokered. William and Mary would preside as joint regents over England under the condition that only William, alone, would hold regal power over the realm. Mary, for her part, is fine with the decision, “knowing my heart is not made for a kingdom and my inclination leads me to a retired quiet life.”

Two things never fail to shock me about Jimmye Laycock. First, he was the offensive coordinator at Clemson when the Tigers beat Ohio State in the 1978 Gator Bowl in the last game Woody Hayes would ever coach.

The second is this: in his thirty years at William and Mary, Laycock has a career playoff record of 6-9. He has won more than one playoff game in a season twice. By comparison, Villanova’s Andy Talley has an 8-8 career playoff record since 1985, including a national title. When Jim Tressell was at Youngstown State from 1986-2000, he had a playoff record of 23-6.

Laycock gets a rightful pass for some of this. After all, when he took over the program in 1980, the school was in a serious debate over whether or not to cut football outright. Though the program survived, it remained under funded for the longest time. If nothing else, Laycock deserves a Gary Williams/Dean Smith/Joe Paterno-esque level of respect for resuscitating a program on life support.

But many of the problems that handcuffed Laycock’s early years, the same years in which many current Tribe fans cut their teeth as football supporters, are no longer true. Division I football teams are able to offer 85 total scholarships, ten less they were able to offer in 1991, which negates a good portion of the College’s financial disadvantage. Even further, the football program’s operating revenue has grown rapidly. The 2010 figure stood at $3,825,469, almost a million dollars more than the program’s total operating revenue just four years earlier in 2007.

Some will point out that the program is not making a profit, a statement made somewhat incredulously by almost every college football program in the county. But, if you look at two of the three highest operating expenses for the William and Mary football program in 2010, they are $752,664 for facilities maintenance and rental, a number which corresponds to the building of the Laycock center in 2008, and $1,913,588 for athletic student aid. In fact, William and Mary football gave out $379,687 more in athletic aid in 2010 than it did in 2007.

Every indicator of potential success on the field (number of scholarships, facilities, quality of athlete recruited) seems to be trending upwards for William and Mary, and has been for the better part of the last decade. Why then does it seem William and Mary fans cannot expect, or even demand, success?

Depending on your rating system, William and Mary enters the 2011 football season with arguably four of the top players in the country at their positions: linebackers Jake Trantin and Dante Cook, cornerback B.W. Webb and running back Jonathan Grimes. They have a former top BCS prospect, a highly recruited one at that, starting at quarterback in Mike Paulus, and return a substantial number of starters and contributors on the offensive and defensive lines. The one position where the program is missing its heaviest production is traditionally football’s most transient, wide receiver.

By all accounts, William and Mary should be favored to win the 2011 National Title. They are ranked number one by the best FBS preseason college football magazine in the country for the second year in a row. They return nearly all the important starters from last year’s team.

Yet, there seems to be something in the nature of William and Mary fans that will not allow them to expect success. Take the last two years in the playoffs. Two years ago, William and Mary’s season came to a screeching halt in the National Semifinals at Villanova despite leading 10-0 at the half. They lost despite outgaining the Wildcats in total yards, passing yards, first downs, time of possession and third down-conversions.

Last year, William and Mary lost to Georgia Southern in the first round of the playoffs despite having a first-round bye. They had a 15-14 halftime lead over a team they outweighed by a significant amount. A week later, Delaware showed what a team with a superstar running back should have done versus the much smaller Panthers: Blue Hen tailback Andrew Pierce gashed his opponent for 186 yards on 26 carries. Jonathan Grimes picked up 100 yards the week before for the Tribe, but did so on only 14 carries out of the backfield.

The storylines from the last two years could have been that William and Mary choked. Or, if not choked, that they lost to inferior opponents. But, for better or for worse, the conventional line of thinking has promulgated the concept that the program wasn’t ready. They were too young or too inexperienced, or their success was too unexpected that any failure was not lamentable.

As a coach and program, Laycock and William and Mary both seem to most closely resemble the recently retired Gary Williams and Maryland basketball. Both play in powerhouse conferences which are typically the best in the nation. Both have stretches where they perform among country’s best, but seem perpetually doomed to play second fiddle to more historically powerful conference rivals. Each fills a role as an impetuous upstart, shooting to the pinnacle of their sport, but seemingly unable to maintain that position for reasons that never seem quite clear.

Yet when Maryland fans experience failure, they get angry. Williams, a future Hall of Fame coach and owner of the program’s only national title, faced a growing movement for his resignation from a small but vocal section of the Terp fan base during a five year stretch where he missed the NCAA tournament three times. While that effort was likely harsh, even the most supportive and complacent of fans grew restless.

At William and Mary, of course, that restlessness is rarely uncovered. The school has a women’s basketball coach who managed to win three games last year despite boasting arguably the second-best offensive threat in the conference and nobody even seemed alarmed.

This hints, for better or worse, at the duality of being a William and Mary fan. There is the dominant, aggressive part which expects success, perhaps brought about by the legions of overachievers who have propagated the College for decades. For lack of a better term, let’s call this the “William” part. It is the part that believes Quinn McDowell should have been a first team All-CAA selection last season. The part which takes pride in being ranked number one two years in a row.

But there is also a second part, the “Mary” part. The part which refuses to put expectations on a team or program in order to not be disappointed. Being a William and Mary fan is not like being a Cubs fan or being a pre-2004 Red Sox fan, where curses and superstition are alleged to trigger dramatic failures which are then celebrated in a perverse manner akin to that of championships in other cities. No, being a William and Mary fan is like rooting for an uncloudy day: sure, you’ll be excited if you turn out to be right and yes, maybe if there are too many cloudy days in a row you’ll get upset. For the most part though, the expectations are so little as to minimize the disappointment. After all, no one punches a wall because of a cumulonimbus.

The thing is though, William and Mary football should have grand expectations this season. They have a talented, experienced, athletic team. They have some of the better facilities in the conference and have significant coaching experience. They have been tested in the playoffs and have a relatively easy schedule, at least for the annual meat grinder that is the CAA.

If William and Mary doesn’t win a national championship this season, if they go through another one-and-done, or one-win playoffs, it’s fans should be disappointed. They should be angry and want answers. Or they can slink away to a retired quiet life.

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  1. Interesting piece. Just a couple of things that I think need to be recognized:

    First, while Laycock has yet to get over the hump, his greatest successes have come in recent years, unlike Paterno. Before 2004 — after 25 years as head coach — his playoff record was 2-6.

    Second, this season probably rests on the apparently fragile health of Mike Paulus. I was very disappointed to hear that Jake Marcey will not be re-joining the team to protect Mike’s blindside. I’ve only heard one side of the story, so I won’t try to assign blame, but don’t underestimate how better this already very good team could have been.

    Very excited for the season. I would say it’s championship or bust, but I’m not sure what “bust” really means. Or, as you put it, wanting answers.

  2. Tank,
    I think Caprio can handle the load, at least well enough to be comparable with the rest of the CAA quarterbacks (not much returning for anyone this year).

    I was totally in Laycock’s corner until the playoffs this past year. The team seemed completely unprepared for Georgia Southern, on either side of the ball. Hopefully we see some real improvement this year.

  3. The thing with the Southern game is that the blame really belonged to the defense. The offense never really had a chance to get into any kind of a rhythm. They’re such a tough matchup for us, as our players are rarely exposed to the spread option offense. Hopefully the new defensive coordinator will be capable of adapting, should we meet again.

    Is VMI still running it? I hope so, because that was a very young Georgia Southern team and they’ll only be better this year. A playoff rematch is definitely possible.

  4. And you’re right about Caprio. He does seem capable.

  5. The thing is, everyone and their mother’s knew that GSU ran that offense. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

    On the offensive end, it’s true that we did not get in a rhythm, but if we had had long “grind-it-out” type drives of the 5-yard run, 4-yard run, 6 yard run, 5 yard run, 5 yard run…….. etc. variety, that certainly would have helped, as well as giving Callahan more room/time to throw. We seemed to abandon the run SO early in that game, even though we couldn’t move the ball through the air. Bottom line, you can’t let the offense off the hook when they didn’t score a TD (the TD we got was a pick-6) and were shut out in the second half, despite entering it with a lead.

  6. It’s one thing to know it’s coming, it’s another thing to stop it. If it were easy, Navy wouldn’t have eight straight bowl appearances.

  7. Do you really consider the semi-final loss to Nova choking? The Tribe had a statistical edge and surrendered a lead, but that was a hell of a Nova team. Sczur and Whitney were tough for any team to stop that season.

    Last year’s loss to GSU was more surprising and bit more of an upset in my opinion. JMU exposed the Tribe’s weakness defending against the option late in the season and GSU found a way to exploit it. If the Tribe tightens up the run D this year, they’ve got to be considered the odds on favorite to win it all.

    The site looks good by the way. It’s pretty much exactly what I’d expect from W&M grads (and I mean that in a good way). I’m looking forward to reading more.

  8. WM and FCS teams don’t offer 85 scholarships, the max is 63.
    WM hasn’t offered more scholarships in recent years, as the article suggests. The fact that WM spent more on scholarships is simply a reflection of rising tuition and associated costs.
    GSU was the best team to play in the first round last year and we’re peaking coming into the playoffs. Its tough to prepare for the triple option and none or our players had ever seen it at game speed. It was simply a match-up that favored GSU becuase it played to our defense’s one glaring weakness.
    To say that WM fans should be disaapointed in anything less than an NC appearence based on meaningless preseason ranking is ridiculous. Way too many unknowns at this point in the preseason, despite all the promise and talent.
    To suggest raised fan expectations is what’s keeping the program from gettig over the hump is equally ridiculous.

  9. To me, the point of this post seems less to be about the football team and Laycock specifically and more about tribe fans as a whole. Wanting more doesn’t necessarily require thinkging Laycock is worthless. Some valid points here and well reasoned I think, but not sure I necessarily agree as a whole. I do agree that I like the site though.

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