By Gail Lethbridge |
You could forgive the average Saint Mary’s University student for not knowing who Bob Hayes was.
His tenure as legendary football coach, director of athletics, and builder of a college sports dynasty long predates the birth of most of today’s Saint Mary’s students, so why would they know who he was? And why would they care?
Well, there are plenty of reasons for students to know and care about Coach Hayes, according to former Huskies players. Under his leadership, a small relatively unknown university in Atlantic Canada became a tour de force, winning national championships, recruiting top athletes, and carving out a reputation for Saint Mary’s University as a powerhouse of intercollegiate varsity sport.
“We were able to compete with anyone in Canada,” says Paul Puma, who played football for Coach Hayes in the 1960s. Puma was a member of the 1964 Saint Mary’s Huskies football team when—under the leadership of Coach Hayes—it won its first Atlantic Bowl (now Larry Uteck) championship.
In 2014, when team members gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the victory, Puma, teammate David Murphy, and fellow team members decided it was time to put Bob Hayes back where he belongs: right at the heart of athletics at Saint Mary’s.
And thanks to their efforts, a bronze bust of Hayes now stands proudly in the main lobby of the Homburg Centre for Health and Wellness. Hayes is smiling. It’s an avuncular smile that makes you instantly like the man, even if you never knew him. That face and smile draw you to him and make you want to know who he was.
“He was tough and very demanding as a coach,” says Puma. “But he cared beyond the football field and in many ways he made us men.”
Murphy echoes these sentiments, saying Hayes was an “icon in the history of Saint Mary’s University,” but he was also a mentor and a friend. “He recruited kids that would never have gone to university,” says Murphy. “When he recruited you, he made sure you got through university. When he recruited you, you were his responsibility.”
His football players admired Coach Hayes because he was not afraid to speak his mind, or get out there on the field and show players how it was done. “He would practise with us,” says Murphy. “That was not a day you looked forward to because he could whack the living daylights out of you. He didn’t wear pads either. Just a helmet.”
\Work on the bust project began in 2014. Puma and Murphy sourced a local sculptor, Douglas Squarek, and began fundraising. “When the letter was sent out to Hayes’ friends and family, we had money in no time,” says Puma, adding this is a testament to the loyalty that remains more than 20 years after Coach Hayes’ retirement and seven years after his death.
“Almost everyone who played for him went on to do something meaningful in life and we can attribute a lot of that to Bob Hayes,” says Puma, who became a school teacher and principal in Halifax. Murphy went to medical school and became a maxillofacial surgeon. Later he followed in Hayes’ footsteps, working as an assistant coach on the Huskies football team and serving two stints as athletic director at Saint Mary’s.
During the 50th reunion of the 1964 team, Murphy said he realized there was no such thing as a “former” teammate. Those players would always be teammates.
In the case of Hayes, there is no such thing as a former coach either. Bob Hayes will always be the coach at Saint Mary’s.