PIKE COUNTY — This was the most fun and excitement Belfry's faithful football followers have had since the Pirates won back-to-back state titles in 2003 and 2004.
Red-clad Belfry fans — also known as Pond Creek Nation — flocked to Pike County Central on Friday night to witness their coach, Philip Haywood, become Kentucky's all-time winningest football coach.
When it became clear in the fourth quarter that Haywood had secured his record 346th victory, hundreds of Belfry fans held up "346" placards and waved them in celebration. On the sideline, Belfry's players wearing jerseys 3, 4 and 6 stood side-by-side to mark the moment.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Haywood was doused with ice water, and Belfry's players and assistant coaches swarmed him, slapping him on the back, shaking his hand and hugging him.
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A hint of a smile but no up-raised arms or fist pumps.
He was the calm among the clamorous. Even when making history, Haywood stayed true to his humble self.
He thanked God for blessing him with longevity (37 years) as a head coach. He thanked all the "blue-collar" players who've responded to his coaching. He credited his assistants for sharing the responsibilities of building and sustaining Belfry's success.
Haywood also made special mention of and appreciation for his wife Linda. She broke her arm last week and couldn't be at the game.
"I'm getting all this publicity, but I have to give credit to all kinds of people," he said. "We started selling sweatshirts this week that say 'Faith, Family, Football.' That's our community. That's what we believe in."
Belfry's players believe in their coach.
"We love him and would do anything for him," senior halfback Josh Dixon said. "Breaking the record was for him and the community.
"It's magical that we could do this for them."
Senior quarterback Tyler Williams wasn't surprised Haywood didn't act giddy:
"He's real quiet about it but, deep down, he's excited."
The celebration didn't end at Pike Central.
The Pirates were escorted by police cars and fire trucks back to Belfry High School, where the lights were on at Cam Stadium and hundreds of fans greeted the team.
There was a cookout, music and lots of laughter late into the chilly autumn night.
Haywood's milestone victory gave him an overall record of 346-120, including a 281-88 mark in 28 years at Belfry.
He eclipsed the record he shared with retired Newport Central Catholic Coach Bob Schneider and retired Bell County Coach Dudley Hilton.
Hilton, in his first year as coach at Pikeville University, was there to congratulate Haywood at midfield after the game Friday night.
It was a scene replayed from their first meeting on a football field almost four decades ago. Haywood made his coaching debut at Prestonsburg in August 1975 by beating Breathitt County and the Bobcats' young boss, Hilton.
Both men went on to become coaching legends.
Hilton compared Haywood to another coaching icon.
"He reminds me a whole lot of Garnis Martin," Hilton said, referring to the late Bardstown coach who was atop the all-time wins list in the late 1980s and early '90s.
"Garnis was always there. To win that many games, you've gotta be consistent year after year after year."
Steve Mickey, who spent more than 30 years as an assistant at Belfry before moving to the radio booth for Pirates games, is one of the coach's closest friends.
He said Haywood's success has been built on "putting the kids first and treating them right, coaching coaches, making sure the community is part of it all, and filtering out the stuff that doesn't matter.
"He's got his priorities right. He's a man of faith and lives that faith every day. He gives the Lord all the praise."
Haywood built Belfry into a powerhouse. It won state titles in 2003 and 2004 and was state runner-up in 1985, 1986, 2007 and 2010.
A Prestonsburg native, Haywood got his start in coaching as a student teacher at Tates Creek in 1972. That's when he first met Commodores Coach Roy Walton.
"Without a doubt, he was my greatest mentor over the years," Haywood said. "More than that, he was like a second dad to me."
Walton led Tates Creek to an undefeated state championship that fall while Haywood watched and learned under one of the most knowledgeable and colorful coaches in Kentucky history.
It was the beginning of a close friendship that lasted until Walton's death last year.
"He had a great impact on me, not just about coaching, but how you deal with people and life," Haywood said.
Walton's influence on Haywood is obvious, not only in his old-school approach to football, but even in how he dresses for games.
Walton always wore a coat and tie on Friday nights. Haywood does the same:
"I remember Roy saying it was kind of like going to a symphony — it was his night to dress up. He wanted to make it special, and so I thought, 'I'm going to do that, too.' "
Haywood's first paid coaching job was at Meade County under Jim DeVries, who, like Walton, had a fondness for the triple-option and a run-first philosophy.
"I got a little bit of that from both of them," Haywood said. "It's not that we're averse to throwing the ball. But we'd rather control the clock and control the tempo."
(Fittingly, Belfry rushed for almost 500 yards but had zero passing yards Friday night.)
After two years at Meade County, Haywood returned home to become head coach at Prestonsburg. He was there nine years, highlighted by a couple of state semifinal appearances, before the opportunity at Belfry presented itself.
"It was just one of those things," Haywood said. "It was kind of like God said, 'This is where you need to be,' and I knew it."
It was the perfect marriage between a football-crazy community and coach who focused on football year round.
Haywood deflects any personal glory. He credits his staff, including the retired Mickey and longtime assistants James Rowe, Todd Castle, Anthony Tackett and Matt Varney and "all the great players we've had."
Haywood has a special relationship with his players that lasts beyond high school.
Former Belfry star David Jones, who had a standout college career at Kentucky, was there Friday night. Now an assistant at Pikeville University, he wished Haywood good luck before kickoff.
"They're going to make history tonight, and I wish I was part of it," Jones said.
Haywood feels that all his former players are part of the record, but more important, part of his mission in life.
"If you look at the grand scheme of things, the best thing about coaching high school football is seeing young men develop and seeing them when they're 30 or 40 years old, out there successful and contributing to society.
"Hopefully, we had a hand in that. That means a lot more to me than wins and losses."