Shorecrest football coach Phil Hayford is stepping down after his 33rd season with the program, marking an end to the longest run a Pinellas County coach has ever had at one school.
The decision to leave was not Hayford's. He said he found out two weeks ago that his contract was not being renewed.
"(The administrators) just said it was time," said Hayford, 64. "I don't know what that means. If you're being let go, you've usually done something wrong, committed a violation or something."
Hayford will coach the Chargers in their final three regular-season games. Currently, his overall record is 191-129, second-best among Pinellas County coaches in all-time wins and just five shy of tying former Northeast coach Jerry Austin as the county's all-time winningest coach. Hayford also also has led Shorecrest to playoff appearances in 15 of 33 seasons, including a stretch in which he made the postseason in 12 of 14 seasons from 1992-2005.
"It's tough for me because I've spent more than half of my life at the school," Hayford said.
Shorecrest headmaster Mike Murphy said it is school policy not to discuss employee matters until after the school year. Murphy did say Hayford will still have a job as a physical education teacher and that the school will not conduct a search for a new coach until after the season.
"We want to keep the focus on the kids and Coach Hayford so everyone can have a positive end to the season," Murphy said. "Phil is very proud of the relationships he has with those players and his contributions stretch far beyond the football field."
Hayford started out as an an assistant for eight years at Oswego High in Illinois. After coaching freshmen, he became the sophomore coach for two years before moving up to varsity. When the varsity coach stepped down, Hayford figured he had a shot at taking over. The school hired someone else.
"I thought this is my shot," Hayford said in 1996. "I told them I was going to look."
What he found was Shorecrest. Hayford thought about leaving, about coaching in college. But he didn't want to move through the assistant ranks like he had to do at Oswego. Instead he stayed.
By doing so, he became an institution.
On Friday nights you can find the Hayford family at games. His wife, Sandy, prints the programs, makes sure the microphone is working in the press box and makes sure the players have water during breaks. His daughter, Mindy, a Shorecrest graduate and former cheerleader is a teacher at the school and is at most games. His son, Brett, a coach at Davidson College, attends whenever he can.
"This is hard, not just for myself, but for my family," Hayford said. "Especially the coach's coach, my wife. She comes to me after every game and gives me a hug. But I can tell the last few weeks there has been some water in her eyes when she's done that."
The outpouring of support of Hayford has been overwhelming the past few weeks with e-mails and calls coming in from former players.
"That part of it has been good because it has given me a chance to catch up with so many of them," said Hayford, whose Chargers are 2-5 this season as an independent.
Brian Bokor attended Shorecrest from 1986-97 and played for coach Hayford.
"While in lower or middle school at Shorecrest, students would dream about one day playing for Coach Hayford, “ Bokor said. “Like many before me, I was lucky enough to do so and his teachings were instrumental for me to become a successful student-athlete at Davidson College and professional. To this day, he, (assistant coach) Dave Field and my father remain the three most influential men in my life. Despite his impeccable record as a coach, he always emphasized the importance of playing within the rules and living life the ‘right way’.”
Hayford said he plans to continue coaching, if not in Pinellas County then somewhere else.
"I've bled green and gold all these years," Hayford said. "Now it'll be different colors. I still have a lot of coaching left in me. I just have to move forward and gain yardage like any good running back should."