Keswick Christian’s Phil Hayford, Pinellas County’s all-time winningest football coach, announced his retirement from coaching on Monday, school officials said.
His career lasted more than 50 years. Most of the wins were at Shorecrest, where Hayford spent 33 years, the longest tenure a Pinellas County coach has ever had at one school. He was hired at Keswick Christian in 2017.
Hayford started out as 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.
So he stayed and became an institution, not just at Shorecrest and Keswick Christian but also in Pinellas County.
On Friday nights you can find the Hayford family at games. His wife, Sandy, helps out in many ways. So does his daughter Mindy, a Shorecrest graduate and former cheerleader, whose son, Bryce Artze played for his grandfather at Keswick Christian. Son Brett attends whenever he can.
Hayford was just five shy of tying former Northeast coach Jerry Austin as the county’s all-time winningest coach when he left Shorecrest. He led the Chargers to playoff appearances in 15 seasons, including a stretch in which he made the postseason in 12 of 14 seasons from 1992-2005.
After his contract was not extended at Shorecrest in 2011, Hayford spent four seasons as an assistant coach at Canterbury. He said at the time he thought about joining his son, Brett as an assistant in North Carolina, before the opportunity at Keswick Christian opened.
Part of the appeal of joining the Crusaders was the chance to coach his grandson, Bryce, who graduated from Keswick Christian last year.
In 2017, Hayford surpassed Austin as Pinellas County’s all-time winningest coach. In six seasons with the Crusaders, Hayford went 27-32.
The school has not set a timetable yet on finding a replacement. A celebration honoring Hayford’s coaching career will take place in the spring.