Jimmye Laycock doesn't deal in hypotheticals, at least not for public consumption. Take what you have. Prepare, play, learn from the results — good and bad — and move on.

Three decades in one place, a bunch of hardware in the trophy case and his name on a building indicate that the approach has served Laycock well.

Laycock won't venture down the path of what might have been, had William and Mary's offensive productivity and playmaking come close to matching that of its nationally ranked defense. You might as well ask him about unicorns and their effect on happiness.

What Laycock sees, what he knows, is that the Tribe improved from a dispiriting two-win season in 2012 to a 7-5 team that put itself in the playoff discussion until the final weekend.

"My major takeaway is I think we made significant progress," he said. "Obviously, it didn't end the way we wanted it to end, but as I step back, going from two wins to seven wins is a pretty significant jump. I think we really accomplished a lot."

The Tribe concluded the season with losses to playoff-bound Towson, a team that appears equipped for a deep postseason run, and to rival Richmond in its most skittish performance in five weeks.

Prior to the loss to Richmond was a four-week stretch in which William and Mary allowed a total of three offensive touchdowns. The Tribe smothered three nationally ranked opponents in James Madison, New Hampshire and Delaware, then played Towson to the wire in a 15-9 loss.

"You're never satisfied, you're never completely pleased," Laycock said, "but I think we made a big jump and really kind of re-established our ability to win and win big ballgames and play well."

William and Mary's turnaround began with a competitive 24-17 loss at Big 12 opponent West Virginia in the season opener, a game the Tribe led in the second half and in which Laycock didn't see his team overwhelmed athletically.

The turnaround more likely began after the 2012 season, when the Tribe lost five games by three points or fewer and a sixth by a touchdown. The players emphasized finishing games and vowed that 2013 wouldn't be a repeat.

"I think it was important that after we played so well at West Virginia, that we kept playing," Laycock said. "We didn't sit back. We kept going, kept working and got on a winning streak after that. I think that was very important."

Defense carried the day. The foundation was a healthy and productive line, quality linebackers in Luke Rhodes and Airek Green and an active secondary led by safety Jerome Couplin III.

The Tribe led the CAA in scoring defense (14 points per game) and total defense (305.5 yards per game), tying for second nationally in scoring and eighth in total defense.

As dynamic and productive as the defense was, however, the Tribe's offense was spotty. In what's become an annual exercise, injuries led to rotating quarterbacks. Injuries also affected the primary running-back rotation of Mikal Abdul-Saboor and Keith McBride.

W&M was ninth in the CAA in scoring offense (21 ppg) and 10th in pass offense (170 ypg) and total offense (318.9 ypg) — jarring numbers for longtime Tribe observers accustomed to penciling in 30 points and 400-plus yards per game.

"We've still got to find ways to be more explosive offensively," Laycock said. "We've got to be able to create more big plays. We've got to be able to finish more drives in the red zone — that type of thing."

New coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers put his imprint on the offense, in both terminology and play-calling.

"We've made progress," Laycock said. "We've learned the new offense. We've executed pretty well. Now, we've got to take it to the next level and turn some of those 10-yard gains into 50-yard gains, and do some things like that."

W&M should return eight of 11 starters on offense, led by all-conference wide receiver and returner Tre McBride, a handful of linemen and a stable of backs. The Tribe will break in a new quarterback next season. Raphael Ortiz, who started games in 2012, was sidelined all season with shoulder issues, but should be healthy and available for spring ball. Laycock also expects Steve Cluley and freshman Jhalil Mosley to compete for time.

"With those three guys, I look for us to be more athletic at the quarterback position," Laycock said, "and hopefully that will open up some other things for us."

The defense should return seven of 11 starters, led by Green and Rhodes and linemen Jasper Coleman, Tyler Claytor and Mike Reilly. Couplin and tackle George Beerhalter will be difficult to replace, but Laycock said that there is potential among the freshman class and reserves.

Place-kicker and punter John Carpenter should return as well, after making 15 of 21 field goals and punting dependably.

"With the caliber of the league and the margin for error, games can depend on getting a punt off or converting a field goal," Laycock said. "I think 'Carp' really came into his own; he became a much more confident kicker and moved on, and I look for him to get even better."

Laycock likes the makeup of the staff and hopes to keep it together. He especially likes the vibe of the team as he prepares for his 35th season coaching his alma mater.

"They're excited about where we are, but I think they're probably even more excited about where we can go," he said. "They're confident, but they're hungry. I think that's a pretty good combination."

Fairbank can be reached by phone at 757-247-4637.