Living Legend: Through his losses, Philip Haywood becomes all-time great

Published: Sep. 26, 2019 at 7:03 PM EDT
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A head coaching legacy unrivaled by anyone in the commonwealth of Kentucky.

"Coach Haywood, he's a Hollywood star," David Jones said, a 2005 Belfry High School graduate who also coached under Haywood.

Haywood's accolades speak for themselves: six state titles, a Kentucky Athletic Hall of Famer, and named National Coach of the Year by National High School Athletic Coaches Association.

"The reason they have that success is because of him and that coaching staff," Xondre Willis said, a 2016 graduate of Belfry High School and current UPIKE running back.

Despite the accolades, Haywood is a simple man.

"I guess two years ago just now getting an iPhone, so that should tell you something," Jones laughed.

He tends to shy away from the spotlight.

"He's very lowkey. He doesn't want any accolades, he doesn't want any praise," 1985 Belfry High School graduate Kevin Varney said.

Before he was legendary head coach Philip Haywood, he was a young coach taking over a program in a football town.

"It was the fall of '84 actually when he came," Varney said. "Coach Haywood took over a program that had a lot of tradition, a lot of foundation, ready I think to take the next step."

Haywood came to Belfry from his hometown of Prestonsburg with a simple philosophy in mind.

"Our philosophy here since I've been here is we wanna get a little better each day," Haywood said

"You have to be unselfish to play football there," Jones added.

It's the same mindset Haywood used for the community and as a guidance counselor at Belfry High School.

"I think his influence has been profound not only on our community but especially the youths that go through Belfry High School," Varney said about Haywood's influence.

Haywood would need that philosophy on the field, as the Pirates kept getting close to a state title, but falling short.

"Sometimes you gotta pay your dues, sometimes things don't go your way," Haywood said about the wait for the title.

That was until 2003.

"It was really like a cinderella story or whatever," David Jones said.

The Pirates traveled to Cardinal Stadium in hopes of bringing home their first state title, and with Pirate nation behind them, Belfry brought home that elusive championship trophy.

"It's hard to put into words. Very emotional," Kevin Varney said about the historic win.

The win was not only for the football program, but for the Belfry community as a whole.

"The emotion of that particular year is something that's unforgettable. I think everybody on our sideline had tears in their eyes," Haywood reminisced. "But afterwards I found out that everybody in the stands did too, people listening on the radio did too. It was such an emotional experience that we finally accomplished that we hadn't accomplished."

The rest after that - well most people know the rest of the story.

"We got over that hump, and once we got that state championship, they just started rolling in," Jones said.

16 years later, Haywood had nine more state title appearances and five more championships. He had to get through losses in 2007 and 2010-2012 in order for the Pirates to four-peat from 2013-2016.

But that's who Philip Haywood was.

"I was the guy that worked hard, that persevered and cared about kids and wanted to make things better for them," Haywood said about what he wants his legacy to be.

Without perseverance for 45 years, we may not know Philip Haywood; the overcomer, the guidance counselor, the champion.