HAMPTON — Bill Hayes knew what he was getting when he chose Connell Maynor to shepherd Winston-Salem State University's troubled, transition football program.
Hayes recruited Maynor as a teenager, coaching him first at WSSU and then at North Carolina A&T. He knew the young man's ability and followed his playing and coaching career. He believed that Maynor possessed qualities capable of not just leading a team, but influencing an entire athletic department.
When Hayes accompanied his new head coach to the CIAA's preseason football gathering in the summer of 2010, however, he was reminded of the wild-card quality snugly nestled within his former quarterback.
"He stands up and says he's going to go 11-and-0," Hayes said. "I like to fell out of my damn chair. I'm thinking: I took a chance on this boy; nobody really expects the world right now; all he's got to do is get in there and start turning things in the right direction and we'll build this thing gradually. But he stands up and says he's going to go 11-0 — he might have said he'd go 15-0. And I said, 'Oh (spit).'"
Maynor didn't make good on his promise. Winston-Salem State authored only a seven-game turnaround that first season, going 8-2 and launching a fabulously successful four-year run that included three CIAA titles, three NCAA playoff appearances and one Division II national championship game.
Maynor's success and Winston-Salem State's rapid turnaround piqued Hampton U. president William Harvey and athletic director Novelle Dickenson, who enticed him to come to HU and restore the Pirates' program to the top of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Maynor is certain that he will do just that. At his introductory press conference in December, he told reporters and a gathering of school officials and fans, in so many words, that he intended to win six consecutive MEAC titles ("back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back").
He said that given his transition to Division I, the late start in assembling a staff and recruiting, HU might win only nine, 10 or 11 games next season. He wondered aloud if school officials might have to expand Armstrong Stadium to accommodate the crowds when wins and titles inevitably come.
"There's something about being confident and believing in yourself," Maynor said recently, sitting in his office at the stadium complex. "If you don't believe you can do it, nobody else will. My whole thing is being confident and speaking things into existence, because that's what the Bible says: Ye shall have what you say. The power's in the tongue."
Maynor, 45, is a deeply assured man born of an even deeper faith. He is a husband, father and coach, a Southern gentleman with old-school values who demands no more from others than that which he delivers. He is a passionate competitor with a playful streak and a showman's flair.
Maynor's belief and ability led to championships as a player and coach. It led, at least indirectly, to the photos of him with Academy Award winners Al Pacino and Jamie Foxx on his office desk. More on that later.
"He ain't no normal cat," Hayes said.
Where most college head coaches are wired vanilla, Maynor is caramel turtle fudge with sprinkles and M&Ms. Reading his remarks is misleading, though, because it doesn't convey tone or delivery. When he tells people to get to the stadium early or they might miss the first three touchdowns, or tells an audience that he has the most single-season wins of any HBCU football coach, there isn't a hint of arrogance.
"I talk positive," Maynor said. "I'm never going to talk negative. People say, he's cocky, he's bragging. No, I'm not cocky, I'm not bragging. I'm speaking things into existence. I have faith in what I'm talking about and in my personal savior, Jesus Christ.
"They say faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain. I just believe in being positive and speaking things into existence. That's the way I am and the way I've always been, and as you can see, I've got a pretty good track record — winning championships and rings and everything that I do. I just keep God first."
Maynor's faith and competitive fire come from his mother. Lula Cain was a single mother and raised Maynor and his brother and sister in modest, if comfortable, surroundings in Fayetteville, N.C. She worked as a dental therapist most of her life and took second jobs when necessary, sacrificing to provide for her children.
"What that does is that teaches you that you have to sacrifice if you want something out of this life, in anything that you do," Maynor said. "To be a good football coach, you've got to sacrifice. To be a good father, you've got to sacrifice. To be a good husband, you've got to sacrifice. That's what she taught me and that's what I'm trying to teach these young men: how to be fathers, role models, leaders. That's a big responsibility."
Fiercely competitive, Lula Cain played sports growing up and was an outstanding bowler. All three of her children competed. Brother Craig played football, basketball, baseball and ran track in high school and played basketball at Winston-Salem State for legendary coach Clarence "Big House" Gaines. Sister Paula ran track and played softball in high school.
Connell Maynor played football, basketball and baseball at E.E. Smith High in Fayetteville. He started at shortstop as a freshman, and baseball was his favorite sport growing up. He played on basketball teams with future Duke standout Robert Brickey and Richard Sowell, who went to DePaul. He was the starting quarterback as a junior and senior.
Maynor went to Winston-Salem State in 1987 to play for Hayes, who inserted him into the starting lineup three games into his freshman year, over the initial protests of his staff. Maynor justified his coach's confidence. He threw for 1,071 yards as the Rams (9-3) won eight of their last 10 games, beating Hampton for the CIAA championship and advancing to the NCAA playoffs.
When Hayes took the head coach's job at North Carolina A&T after the season, Maynor went with him. He played four seasons of baseball — Winston-Salem State didn't have a baseball program — and three years of football. Aggies basketball coach Don Corbett wanted him to play, as well, but Hayes nixed that possibility because he didn't want Maynor to risk injury.
Maynor was the two-time MEAC Offensive Player of the Year, in 1990 and '91, leading the Aggies to an 18-5 record his final two years and the conference title in '91. He remains the No. 5 passer in A&T history, with 4,318 yards, and No. 5 in total offense, with 4,961 yards, in just three seasons.
After graduation, he played nine seasons in the Arena Football League for several teams, winning two titles with Tampa Bay and two with Orlando. He became a coach and offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Soul, from 2006-08, helping the Soul to an Arena League championship in '08. He juggled playing and coaching in the Arena League with his first college coaching stint, from 2000-09 at Fayetteville State.
At Fayetteville State he coached quarterbacks, eventually coordinated the offense and was part of three championship teams under the man he hired to be his defensive coordinator at HU, Kenny Phillips.
When Winston-Salem State's chancellor persuaded Hayes to return from his gig at Florida A&M and lead the athletic department, one of his early moves was giving Maynor his first opportunity as a head coach.
"I was rolling the dice, really," said Hayes, who recently retired as WSSU's athletic director. "I stepped out on faith and my intuition. Sometimes, you have to do that, but I knew Connell and I knew what I was getting."
WSSU athletics were in a turbulent period. The school did an about-face from an attempted move to Division I and the MEAC, back to Division II and the CIAA. The decision split the campus and many of the school's boosters and fans. The football team, one of the flagship programs, went 1-10 the year before Maynor arrived.
"There was a lot of tension, a lot of disgruntled folk," Hayes said. "And then I bring in this guy. He's positive from the word go. He believes in himself and anything he sets out to do. He's a pied piper."
The Rams' turnaround was both jarring and swift.
"What guy do you know comes into a program that goes 1-10 thinking already that we're going to go 15-0 or undefeated?" said former linebacker Carlos Fields, a two-time CIAA Defensive Player of the Year and current pro prospect. "He had a philosophy that nobody was going to beat him."
Fields was initially apprehensive about Maynor and his staff as they overhauled the roster while implementing their standards for on-the-field and off-the-field behavior.
"You either buy into his system or you don't," Fields said. "There were some really good players that got kicked off the team because they didn't abide by his rules. No matter how good you are, if you don't buy into the system, you won't be there. He'd always say, we'll win with you or without you."
Fields chuckled recalling Maynor's confidence and some of his sayings. One phrase stuck out, when Maynor disagreed with a preseason prediction.
"He said, 'You must be out your jackrabbit mind if you've got us finishing third,'" Fields recalled. "He's a character. I love him to death."
The Rams went 45-6 during Maynor's four years, 29-2 in the CIAA with three conference titles. They made the national semifinals once and the championship game in 2012, losing to traditional D-II national power Valdosta State.
Hayes credits Maynor with helping to jump-start the entire athletic department. WSSU teams won 14 conference titles in various sports during his four years as football coach.
"Every sport embraced Coach Hayes because he came in with a new energy and a new mindset," said former WSSU men's basketball coach Bobby Collins, who led the Rams to three NCAA appearances and also coached at HU. "With Connell having success right away, everybody else fed off of what football was doing, and it was just a great fit."
Maynor instilled a competitive mind-set that permeated the entire department. Everything was a competition, from which assistant coach could land the best recruits, to hitting golf balls down the office hallways.
"The thing that I tell everyone about Coach Maynor," said Kienus Boulware, his defensive coordinator and successor as head coach at WSSU, "what stands out has nothing to do with X's and O's. But it's the father figure and husband that he is.
"He's a great guy to work for. I don't think you measure someone just by how successful you are, but how you treat people. He treats his family with the utmost respect and that translates to players and translates to the coaching staff."
One of Maynor's competitive outlets was his weekly quarterback challenges. Every Thursday, he challenged all of the team's quarterbacks on the practice field. Each one chose a receiver and they ran a series of drills and throws, with a point system tied to accuracy and timing.
The winner got a pro wrestling-style championship belt to keep for a week. The belt routinely ended up in Maynor's office. He wasn't bashful about telling people where the belt would, and did, reside.
"He was in his 40s and you would think that college players would beat him, but I'd say he won 90 percent of the time," Boulware said. "I was always the one pulling for one of the players to win because I didn't want to hear him run his mouth about how he was the champ."
Maynor continued the challenges at HU during spring practice and they will pick up in the summer and fall.
"I love it," Maynor said. "I tell the guys, I have more pressure on me than anybody because everybody wants me to lose. They want me to lose and I know they want me to lose and it don't bother me. I love pressure.
"You know what? Pressure busts pipes and pressure makes diamonds. When they made me, they made a diamond. Them other guys, when I put pressure on them, they bust like pipes. I'm used to people wanting me to fail and somebody else to beat me, but that's life."
Maynor was on a roll.
"I'm going to let you know I'm going to beat you," he said. "You come out there, I'm going to beat you. I'm not going to say, you're probably going to beat me, I'm going to come in last. Naw, I'm not going to do that. I'm going to bring the belt out and it's your job to take the belt. If you don't take the belt, I'm going to bring it back to my office and talk junk."
Maynor can play to a crowd in many settings. Last winter, at halftime of an HU men's basketball game versus Morgan State at the Convocation Center, he and former Pirates hoops standout Jeff Granger played a game of H-O-R-S-E.
Maynor won, hitting an array of jump shots and 3-pointers. He knocked out Granger with a 25-foot shot from the left baseline while standing on a chair on the HU bench.
"I've got energy and range," he deadpanned. "If I'm in the gym, I can hit from anywhere. As long as I'm in the gym, I'm dangerous."
Maynor's confidence and ability led to a brief, but interesting, movie career. He won a tryout among 25 candidates to be Jamie Foxx's stand-in in "Any Given Sunday," director Oliver Stone's stylized, over-the-top take on professional football.
Most football action sequences were shot twice, Maynor said — one with Foxx on closeups as Miami Sharks quarterback Steamin' Willie Beamen, the second from a distance or overhead with Maynor running, scrambling and throwing passes.
"All those tight spirals, that was me," Maynor said, stifling a smile. "That wasn't no Jamie Foxx."
Maynor had a blast on the set. He and Pacino often played catch on the field between takes or during breaks. He and Foxx talked regularly. He has photos taken with both men on his office desk.
"Very, very down-to-earth and cool," Maynor said of the all-star cast. "Pacino and Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz and Dennis Quaid and Bill Bellamy and Jim Brown and Lawrence Taylor. Every single one of those stars in 'Any Given Sunday' were cool as all get-out."
Maynor's work on "Any Given Sunday" earned him a call to work on "Remember The Titans," the Denzel Washington movie about the 1971 Virginia state champion T.C. Williams team during the first year of public school integration. Maynor did the football stunts for Jerry "Rev" Harris.
As time passed, Maynor didn't get calls for other football movies.
"I could probably still beat those guys out," he said, "but they'd probably use guys who are still playing."
Maynor balances his competitive rhetoric with a fierce devotion to family. He mentioned his 18-year marriage to his wife, Meryl, whom he's known since high school, several times in a 45-minute conversation.
He encourages his coaches to go home and spend time with their families when their work is done. At WSSU, he scheduled meetings to give himself a window to pick up his daughter from school most afternoons. Nicole Maynor became a fixture around the Rams' football offices.
"If they see me spending quality time with her," Maynor said of his players, "maybe they get the picture that it's more than just football. It's being a father, it's being a husband, it's going to church on Sundays. Maybe they want to be like me and now they'll start doing the right things, and they'll get married and take care of their kids and go to church and do the right things."
Maynor demands that his players represent themselves well on campus. No earrings. No hats indoors. No baggy or drooping pants. Violaters can be found doing 500-yard bear-crawls on the practice field. The quickest path out of his program is to disrespect women.
Maynor emphasizes life beyond football to his players. Few will play professionally. All of them must prepare for the next 40-50 years beyond the game, which is why he stresses academics and graduation.
He laments the rise in fractured families, the increasing number of kids growing up with limited guidance. He is zealous about his position as a role model, in part because he was raised in a single-parent home.
"I'm living proof that you can still do what you want to do, accomplish what you want to do," he said. "You don't have to make excuses because your father wasn't home. You use that to motivate yourself, that you don't want to be like him. You want to be there for your wife, for your daughter, for your son. Use it for motivation, not to make excuses."
"No excuses" is one of Maynor's themes since he arrived at Hampton.
"He's definitely established a different mind-set," Pirates quarterback J.J. Williamson said. "He talks to us all the time about winning, about how nothing else matters but putting ourselves in position to win, no matter what the circumstances are."
HU football slid back to the middle of the MEAC pack in recent years, a combination of constant staff changes, sanctions related to poor performance in the NCAA's Academic Progress Rating (APR), recruiting misses and inconsistent development.
Maynor spent the past four months learning about and connecting with his new team.
"He's a players' coach," Williamson said. "He's fun to be around, but players respect him at the same time. We're definitely drawn to him. It's a different vibe, a winning vibe."
Maynor came out of spring practice pleased with the team's progress. The next steps for players are becoming more familiar with the offensive and defensive schemes, and staying on track academically. He challenges as much as he nurtures.
"I'm going to speak the truth," he said. "I tell people all the time, if you don't want to know the truth, don't ask me, because I'm not going to tell you a lie. I'm not going to lie to the kids, I'm not going to lie to the parents, I'm not going to lie to the president, the AD, I'm not going to lie to anybody. I'm going to tell you the truth, the way I feel.
"Now, I'm going to give you my opinion. Will my opinion always be right? No. But that's what I'm going to do. Would you like it all the time? No, you might not like it all the time, but that's not for me. I might not like everything you do all the time, but I can't worry about that. I've got to do what I've got to do. I've got to run my program the way I run my program because at the end of the day, I'm responsible for it. I can't worry about what you think about it."
Maynor had other opportunities to leave Winston-Salem State, but remained out of loyalty to Hayes and because he sensed the timing or the openings weren't right for him. The Hampton job intrigued him because of its tradition and facilities, and the challenge of moving up to Division I.
Maynor consulted with Collins, who was the Pirates' head basketball coach for four years and spent a dozen years in the program.
"I told him it was a great possibility," said Collins, who recently took the head coach's job at Maryland Eastern Shore. "I told him the school is second to none. The support, financially, is second to none with the endowment. I thought he and Dr. Harvey would get along great because they both are competitors, they both want to win, they're both driven."
Maynor has won championships everywhere he's been and sees no reason why that won't continue. He has a formula that works and instills belief in those around him. He knows that he and his system aren't for everyone, and he's fine with that.
"You can't please everybody, no matter what you say or do," Maynor said, "so I'm not going to try to do that. I'm not going to try to please everybody. I'm going to try to win as many football games as I can and graduate as many student-athletes as I can."
And if you don't think he'll have fun and talk some junk along the way, you must be out your jackrabbit mind.
Fairbank can be reached by phone at 757-247-4637.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun