Billy Laval had a reputation as an innovator. As one of nine members of the 2016 University of South Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame class sponsored by the Association of Lettermen, Laval coached football (1928-34), baseball (1928-34) and men’s basketball (1932-33) at South Carolina.
“It’s been a long time coming, but it feels great,” said Laval’s 74 year old grandson, Harry Laval. “He’s in a bunch of other hall of fames. Carolina is the last one, but it’s the best one. It’s a great honor. If he were here, he would be so honored.”
Laval had previously been inducted into the (state) South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame in 1961 and the Furman University Hall of Fame in 1981. He had coached baseball at Erskine College as an 18 year old. He coached football for 13 years at Furman before his days at South Carolina, and he also coached at Emory & Henry as well as Newberry College later in his career.
Laval was the first football coach in South Carolina history to produce seven-consecutive winning seasons, a feat only matched by Steve Spurrier (2008-14). He was asked to coach the basketball team for the 1932-33 season and won the Southern Conference championship that year. In baseball, Laval holds the best career winning percentage out of the 13 head coaches that have coached more than 50 games for the Gamecocks, as his teams from 1928-1934 went 89-33-1 for a .728 mark.
“Believe it or not, his biggest love was baseball,” Harry Laval said. “I remember one time when Ty Cobb came to the house.”
He kept up with every school that he coached, even after he left.Harry Laval
Laval died in 1957 at the age of 72, and many of the great stories of his tactics are lost to time or can only be found by dusting off old newspaper articles. Whether it was putting multiple players in motion before the snap of the football (which was legal in those days), his reputation of being superstitious, or his fascination with uniform colors and design, Laval would have made for great television and social media coverage in today’s world.
“He was amazing for his time,” Harry Laval said. “I loved him. He was quite an individual. He kept up with every school that he coached, even after he left.”
For those that knew him, the best way to describe Laval was that he could flat out coach. That meant teaching and good communication skills.
“He was a disciplinarian,” Harry Laval said. “I remember one night, his team was getting beat. He got so disgusted, he sat in the stands with the family and just said ‘They’ll pay tomorrow.’ He was a pretty quiet person.
“When we were kids, he would hit balls to me and my sister,. He would tell you how to catch it, and how to block it by using your body."
Laval and the rest of the 2016 Hall of Fame class will be honored and inducted on Thursday, October 20 in the Zone at Williams-Brice Stadium. Inductees will also be recognized at the South Carolina-UMass football game on Saturday, October 22.