There may not be another high school football coach in Kentucky who’s experienced more season-ending heartache than Belfry’s Philip Haywood over the past two years.
Last year his squad lost the Class 3-A championship game to Central 15-14 on a 35-yard touchdown pass with 2:01 remaining. And in a 3-A final rematch earlier this month, Belfry dropped a 12-6 decision to Central in overtime.
“No, it doesn’t get easier,” said Haywood, whose teams have lost to Central in the 3-A final four of the past six seasons. “Not only were our kids and staff devastated, I was devastated, too. I remember talking to the media after the game, and most times I’m good at answering their questions. But I didn’t know what to say. We weren’t planning on losing.”
Haywood hasn’t lost much during his 38-year tenure as a head coach, and the awards are quickly accumulating. For the third time in his career — and the second straight year — Haywood has been named Kentucky’s Football Coach of the Year by The Courier-Journal.
Haywood received 13 votes in a statewide survey of coaches, five more than runner-up Lance Gregory of Graves County. Warren East’s Ben Bruni, Pleasure Ridge Park’s Jason Hiser and Scott County’s Jim McKee tied for third in the voting with six votes apiece.
“I’m almost a little dumbfounded,” said Haywood, who was a co-winner with Trinity’s Bob Beatty last year and also won the award in 2003. “As a coach, to be honored among your peers as Coach of the Year is one of the highest honors you can receive.”
The 61-year-old Haywood is Kentucky’s all-time winningest coach, with a career record of 362-124. He coached nine seasons at Prestonsburg (1975-83) before taking the Belfry job in 1984. He’s led the Pirates to eight state finals, posting a 2-6 record.
Some coaches might consider six championship-game defeats a blemish on their record. But Haywood said championships aren’t his goal.
“I don’t feel like we failed this year,” Haywood said. “The one thing we always set out to do is to play our best game in the last game of the season. I really believe we did that. We could play it again and flip a coin, and maybe it would have been us that won in overtime.”
The Pirates finished the season 12-3, averaging 38.8 points per game behind a trademark ground attack that churned out 322 rushing yards per contest.
Haywood credited co-defensive coordinators Matt Varney and Todd Cassell and co-offensive coordinator Anthony Tackett (with Haywood) with helping the Pirates get the most out of their talent.
“The thing that impressed me the most out of this group was they really played hard,” Haywood said. “They were always physical … and rarely said much on the field. The rest of the time they just played. I kind of appreciated that.”
After nearly four decades in the profession, Haywood said he’s used to questions about how long he’ll stick around as a coach.
And he’s developed a tried-and-true answer.
“I’m good for another year,” he said. “God has really blessed me. As long as I have good health and feel like I’m still making a contribution, I feel like this is what He wants me to do.”
Haywood (3-A) and Hiser (6-A) picked up Coach of the Year honors in their respective classes. Other winners were Cooper’s Randy Borchers (5-A), Highlands’ Dale Mueller (4-A), Caldwell County’s David Barnes (2-A) and Pikeville’s Chris McNamee (A).