|Sport(s)||Football, basketball, baseball|
January 15, 1885|
Columbia, South Carolina
|Died||January 20, 1957
Columbia, South Carolina
|Coaching career (HC unless noted)|
Furman (B squad)
Emory & Henry
Emory & Henry
Greenville Spinners (manager)
Asheville Tourists (manager)
Emory & Henry
|Head coaching record|
|Overall||168–125–16 (football, excluding Emory & Henry)|
College Football Data Warehouse
|Accomplishments and honors|
1 Southern Conference Tournament (1933)
William L. "Billy" Laval (January 15, 1885 – January 20, 1957) was an American minor league baseball player, baseball manager, and college baseball, football, and basketball coach. He held head coaching positions at the University of South Carolina, Furman University, Emory and Henry College, and Newberry College. He is the only South Carolina football coach to have produced seven consecutive winning seasons. In 2009, The State called him "the greatest collegiate coach" in the history of South Carolina.
Laval was born on January 15, 1885 in Columbia, South Carolina. At the age of 18, he coached baseball at Erskine College. The following year, he held the same position at Sewanee before returning to Erskine. From 1904 to 1905, he played baseball as a pitcher for Furman University. According to The State, there is no record of his enrollment at the school, however, which presumably made him a ringer. During the 1905 season, he proposed to his girlfriend Elizabeth, who responded "If you beat Clemson today, I will marry you." Laval pitched Furman to a win, 2–1, and the two were married soon after. He would later joke in speeches, "She has hated Clemson ever since."
Minor league career
In his early years, Laval played minor league baseball for a wide number of teams throughout the South in the South Carolina League, Carolina Association, Virginia League, South Atlantic League, and North Carolina State League. These teams included: the Greenville Mountaineers (1907), Greenville Spinners (1908–1909 and 1919), Winston-Salem Twins (1909–1910), Spartanburg Spartans (1911–1912), Anderson Electricians (1912), Richmond Colts (1913), Petersburg Goobers (1914), Jacksonville Tarpons (1915), and the Greensboro Patriots (1916). His playing career was mediocre, with a .253 batting average and 42–37 record as a pitcher.
In 1907, the manager of the Greenville Mountaineers, Tommy Stouch, signed Shoeless Joe Jackson, and to evaluate him, had Laval pitch against Jackson for five days of batting practice. He chose Laval for his assorted repertoire of curveballs and spitballs.
Laval was described as an innovative football coach, and he implemented the "crazy quilt" offense, where pre-snap motion was used to create confusion for the defense. Whitey Rawl, Furman quarterback from 1925 to 1927, told The Columbia Record in 1961 that opponents thought "Laval was either cheating or crazy... Nobody ever seemed to figure out which, but we beat 'em." Laval also employed a play called the "crap shooters shift", which was similar to the modern no-huddle offense. He also constantly tweaked his teams' uniforms. At Newberry College, he modified the uniforms with targets to aid his color-blind quarterback's ability to distinguish his receivers. Laval's superstitious nature also influenced his uniform tinkering. For example, in the 1931 South Carolina–Clemson game, he had his team change from their gray jerseys into their "lucky" red uniforms at halftime.
Despite never having played a single down of football, in 1914, he became the coach of the Furman B squad under head coach W. B. Bible, brother of Dana X. Bible. Bible, however, was an English professor with little knowledge of the game, and Laval soon had the B squad capable of decisively beating the varsity team in scrimmages. After the season, the school sent Laval to be mentored by Illinois head coach and football innovator Robert Zuppke, who had won the 1914 national championship. In 1915, W. B. Bible resigned and Laval took his place as the head football coach in addition to his duties as baseball coach. As an "all-year coach", his salary was $1,100, which was about the average at the time. He coached Furman football from 1916 to 1927 and compiled a 71–34–3 record. In 1920, Laval returned to the Greenville Spinners to serve as their manager during the baseball season.
In 1927, Laval accepted a three-year contract worth $8,000 per year to coach at the University of South Carolina, which made him the highest-paid coach in the state. He coached South Carolina from 1928 to 1934 and compiled a 10–14–4 record. Opposing coaches began demanding rule changes to limit the pre-snap shifts and motion of the "crazy quilt". Rules began to change toward the end of his tenure.
In 1932, Laval recruited four players from the 1930 Texas state high school basketball champions. South Carolina basketball coach Rock Norman did not want to play the new recruits ahead of his more seasoned players, so Laval agreed to coach the team for the season. Because of his lack of basketball knowledge, Laval had one of Norman's players, team captain Buck Smith act as an assistant coach. South Carolina ended the season on a fifteen-game winning streak and captured the Southern Conference tournament championship. Jeff Sagarin retroactively ranked South Carolina that season's third-best team in the nation. Norman returned to take over the basketball team the following year.
In 1933, the South Carolina athletic department reported a $15,200 deficit, and Laval reluctantly agreed to take a pay cut to $5,000. However, the department's financial difficulties worsened, and the next year it requested Laval take a second pay cut to $3,600, which he refused. The school allowed his contract to lapse after the 1934 season.
Laval then moved on to Emory and Henry College to serve as its head football, basketball, and baseball coach from 1936 to 1937. In 1938, he returned to his home state to coach at Newberry College. He remained there until retirement in 1950. In 12 season as head football coach at Newberry, Laval compiled a record of 45–61–5.
After coaching, Laval ran a chain of sporting goods stores throughout South Carolina. He also worked in the front office of minor league baseball teams in Rock Hill and Greenwood. He and his wife had three children: two sons and a daughter. His wife died on November 22, 1956 after a long illness. Laval himself died shortly thereafter on January 20, 1957 from a heart attack at his son's home in Columbia. The South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame inducted him in 1961, and the Furman University Athletic Hall of Fame inducted him in 1981.
Head coaching record
|Furman Paladins (Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association) (1915–1926)|
|South Carolina Gamecocks (Southern Conference) (1928–1934)|
|Emory & Henry Wasps () (1936–1937)|
|Newberry Indians () (1938–1949)|
- Morris: Laval knew how to win, no matter the sport, The State, November 15, 2009.
- Billy Laval Minor League Statistics & History, Baseball Reference, retrieved July 18, 2010.
- All-Time Coaching Records by Year, College Football Data Warehouse, retrieved July 19, 2010.
- "Newberry Wolves 2010 Football Media Guide". Newberry College. p. 106. Retrieved December 13, 2011.
- One of USC's best coaches not in Hall, The State, November 15, 2009.
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference (Minors)