Welcome back to our exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime interview with former A&T coach Bill Hayes. In the first part of this interview, Hayes talked about his current position as the athletic director of North Carolina Central University and his humble beginnings as a program builder at A&T. In part two, Hayes provides us with even more insight into his extraordinary coaching career. This time he describes some of sale pitches he used to become a legendary recruiter, the tactics he used to successfully court athletic boosters and corporate sponsors, and the close-knit bond he forged with the young men who played for him.
Bluedeathvalley.com: Despite the lack of facilities you encountered upon your arrival at A&T, you quickly became known as one of the best recruiters in college football. How were you able to attract all those blue-chip athletes to A&T when you didn’t have the top-flight resources to work with?
Bill Hayes: “Well amazingly, I used to bring kids on campus and I told them, ‘if you’re going to play ball here, you’ve got to have some vision.’ I would take them down to where (the new Bryan Fitness and Wellness Building) is now and I’d say, ‘this is the field house right here. Can’t you see it?’ I’d say, ‘Can’t you see our new locker room? Can’t you see our brand new equipment room? It’s going to be here next year when you come in as a freshman. Before your sophomore year, you’re going to be walking into the brand new building and all you have to do is have some vision of where we’re going with this thing. If you have some vision, just picture yourself at your locker. It’s a brand new, ultra-modern locker room that we’re going to have right here.’ You know, I did that for 12 years (laughing). Finally the guys that I had recruited and who graduated but never saw that field house, they came back to me and said, ‘Coach, you promised us the field house and I really thought I was in it.’ (laughing) So, yes, we sold a dream. And the odd thing is we sold that thing for about eleven years before the first brick was even laid. We had been selling that dream to recruits all over. The other coaches used to say, ‘when (Hayes) comes in here to talk to you, he’s going to tell you about the field house that they don’t have.’ But I still got the kids. You know, they tried to use it against me and I still went in and sold that dream of what we were going to be in the future and what they were going to have a chance to be apart of. And we brought in some great athletes. I think, between the two schools I coached at, over 200 guys ended up signing with NFL (teams).
Were you ever disappointed with the support the A&T administration was giving you at that time?
Bill Hayes: “I never complained about what I didn’t have, you know, because what I did have was a mind and some energy and the creativity to go out and get what I needed. Of course, early in the mornings at three or four o’clock, I would lie in bed and think about what I didn’t have and feel sorry for myself. But when the sun came up I was going to hit that road and start trying to make something happen. I never wanted to ever say anything bad about anybody that gave me a chance. That includes Winston Salem State, Wake Forest, A&T, and now NCCU. All those people gave me a chance to support my family and coach and work with athletes, so I never was going to go out there and badmouth any of those folks because they gave me a chance. All you need in life is a chance. I really believe that. That’s what I sold to my players all those years: don’t worry about what you don’t have; you got a chance. And if you got a chance that’s all you need. But, yes, I would ask for things. Some of the things that they have now, I asked for and never got it (laughing). I can’t believe some of these salaries they’re making now, because some of my guys didn’t make very much (laughing).
Do you ever feel like the biblical Moses, in the sense that you helped bring the A&T football program to the Promised Land but, in the end, you weren’t really able to enjoy the benefits yourself?
Bill Hayes: “But I did enjoy it. Nobody can take anything away from what we were able to accomplish. I’m just glad that the things that I dreamed about, the things that I sold to my players, finally became a reality. And I did get to enjoy that field house for two years. You know, I worked (to get) it for twelve and I was in there for two (laughing). But I was in there long enough to finally see it become a reality.”
What were you most proud of during your tenure at A&T?
Bill Hayes: “Probably all the things that we were able to accomplish. You know, just riding by and looking at the fields and remembering what it was like when I started; looking at the quality of uniforms and socks and the way the kids can dress now. When I started we had zero (laughing). Just looking at the helmets that I begged to get money for. And I didn’t think I was telling a lie when I did it, but I told every contributor who bought a helmet that I was going to put their name on the back of the helmets. I didn’t know when I was selling it that the NCAA wouldn’t allow me to put people’s names on the back of a helmet, but people bought those helmets at $100 a piece. I went and (presented) the helmet-buying campaign to alumni and friends of mine, and they bought helmets. Sara Lee was great also – you know, they gave me the uniforms. I begged for those uniforms. The way I got in good with Sara Lee was every Christmas I would cook barbecue shoulders. In my backyard I would cook 12 shoulders and I would hand-deliver those shoulders to those people who made decisions at Sara Lee. I would also make sauce and my wife used to get so pissed because I would get in the kitchen and make me a sauce and had steam and mess everywhere (laughing). I made a big ol’ pot of sauce and she went and bought some jars and I made (my own) labels. I’ve still got some labels at home now. But I would put my label on the jars, I’d put my sauce in there, cook the shoulders, and then hand-deliver the shoulders to their house on the day before Christmas. So then when I asked them for something later we would also meet. Probably twice a year, we would have lunch together. Fred…God, I can’t think of his name right now…but Fred was a big man at Sara Lee, and so me and Fred and Bob Hoots and Ray McAllister would just meet together over lunch. And Ray was my straight man so he would make the pitch and I would act real innocent, but we had it all planned out. Ray would say, ‘You know Fred, Bill needs some new uniforms this year. I’m tired of seeing Bill’s team in those old uniforms. So Fred said, ‘Bill, what do you need?’ I said, ‘I really need a set of uniforms…but we can’t have just a brand new set of home uniforms; we need two sets. Really we need a gold, a blue, and a white set. Because if I just get the gold then I won’t have a blue one… and when I put on the old blue one, the colors aren’t going to match up…so actually we’re going to need three (new sets of uniforms). I need a white one and a blue one and a gold one.’ So he said, ‘Well, how much is that going to cost? I said ‘Well, I’ve got about $5,000 but it’s going to cost me $30,000 to get three.’ Fred looked at Bob and said ‘Bob, can we do we do this?’ Bob said ‘yeah, if you want to.’ And Fred said ‘well I want Coach to have the same things that those students at Carolina and Duke have. And then he wrote us a check. Then, of course, they would order from all their different divisions all over the country- the shorts and t-shirts and socks that we needed. I had 500 pairs of nice blue sweats that they sent me from Chicago. I was in so tight with them that we lost a game one time and they sent me sausages and carrot cakes. They sent me enough carrot cake to feed the whole campus and enough Sara Lee sausages to cook for the whole team. So that Monday we didn’t practice; we just went out and I cooked on the grill out there at the stadium and we ate sausage dogs. They wanted me to do that to make the team feel better. Sara Lee was completely 100 percent behind us and they gave us a lot of help. But people didn’t know what I was doing behind the scenes, because I was taking care of them too, in my own way. You know, we couldn’t give them any money and that local advertisement (that we gave them) really wasn’t what the Sara Lee people wanted, but what did it for us was the little touch that I put on it. When I did that barbecue they started looking forward to it every Christmas and New Year’s and I’d make sure they all got it. That’s what really got me over the hump with those folks.”
Let’s switch gears now and talk a little bit about your coaching style. You were always known as a smash-mouth, ball-control type of coach. How did you adopt that philosophy and why did you stick with it for the majority of your career?
Bill Hayes: “Well, I learned that from my high school coach, Russell Blount. It’s just something about the running game and physical defense. You know, we never were concerned about scoring a lot of points. We wanted to keep the scores down low and be really physical in our approach… and teach real mental toughness. No frills. We weren’t cute. I taught the philosophy that we were really going to hurt those cute teams, like FAMU. We were really going to get after those cute guys that make yardage throwing the ball around and did all these dances in the end zone– we’re going to wear them out. See, I was teaching toughness, teaching people how to get up when you get knocked down and how to come back. I guess my life kind of emulates what I taught. Being able to be tough and fight and keep trying and not to ever make excuses. You know what I mean? That’s what it was all about. If a guy played for me, trust me, he was strong mentally. He might not have had as much speed as another guy had or been as quick, but I could bet you one thing- he was going to be tougher than his opponent. Because that’s what we coached everyday: toughness, mental toughness.”
You also seemed to have a very strong bond with the young men who played for you over the years. You were known as an extremely loyal coach and there were times that you received heavy criticism because you would often stick with a guy who was struggling at the time but had been there for you in the past.
Bill Hayes: “We were a family. When I went into a kid’s house I would tell them during recruiting visits that, ‘first of all, I’m going to coach the whole kid. I’m not just going to coach the football side of you, I’m going to coach you academically, I’m going to coach you socially.’ You know, during the off-season we would have meetings every Wednesday about how to do an interview, how to dress, how to act, how to eat. Most guys learned how to tie their first necktie at those meetings. They would bring a necktie to the meeting and I would teach everyone how to tie a necktie at the meeting. We taught everything to those kids. It was more than just Xs and Os. We probably talked about being a man more than we talked about football. We probably talked about the plight of the black man in America more than we talked about how to beat FAMU. I see it as a real problem the way some of our people act today and the way a lot of black males don’t take care of family- so I was teaching against that. A lot of these guys might have come from homes where there wasn’t a man (present). But, you know, we weren’t going to let that happen. We were going to do our part to stop all this foolishness and madness and so, we were teaching that, and pride. Pride in our race, pride in our school, pride in our team. If somebody’s grandmother died we would all jump in the car and go and visit. We were tight. And so it was more really about life than it was about football.”