The UBC Thunderbirds family is mourning the loss of Bob Laycoe, one of the most accomplished and influential figures throughout the history of UBC varsity athletics, who passed away on Monday, December 28 at the age of 73.
Laycoe’s legacy and impact is impressive, unique and far reaching, spanning two sports across several decades with an abundance of accolades to show for it, not only while at the Point Grey campus but at other stops across Canada as well. Laycoe was a standout varsity student-athlete for both the UBC wrestling and football teams ahead of transitioning to the coaching ranks for the ‘Birds where he further cemented his legacy as a proven winner, tremendous mentor, and eventual esteemed UBC Hall of Famer.
In the summer of 1969 Laycoe completed his Master’s degree in Physical Education (Kinesiology) at UBC after playing a season of Thunderbird football. That ’68 season he was selected the team’s Most Inspirational Player. The same 1968/69 season, Bob was a member of the UBC wrestling team and proved to be one of the T-Birds very best. He was the U SPORTS Champion and Canadian National Champion.
Following his one year at UBC, Laycoe served four years as head coach and Athletics Director at the University of Saskatchewan. In 1973 Laycoe returned to UBC ready to contribute on many levels, first joining the staff at the School of Physical Education where he was involved in academic planning for the school. He was also named head coach of the UBC wrestling team and an assistant coach with the Thunderbird football team.
As coach of the wrestling team from 1973-74 through 1978-79, Laycoe guided his teams to four Western Canadian University titles. In addition, he was selected to coach Canadian teams at several international wrestling events including the Commonwealth Games. In 1978 Bob was named Canada’s university wrestling Coach of the Year.
Meanwhile, from 1973 through 1987 Laycoe was also building quite a reputation as a football coach, most notably as a defensive coordinator with some of UBC’s best teams under head coach Frank Smith. These teams included both the 1982 and 1986 Vanier Cup champions and the first UBC team to reach the Vanier Cup in 1978.
Laycoe’s teachings and innovations were much appreciated by his former coaching mentor and friend.
“Bob immediately made an impact on the program coaching defence and working with special teams,” said Smith, a fellow UBC Hall of Famer on his time coaching alongside Laycoe. “Bob’s rapport with his players was remarkable and Bob’s defence was one of the most feared in the country.”
Laycoe’s impressive skill set and versatility always seemed to be on display, garnering further praise from Smith who described Laycoe as a master recruiter in the midst of a highly competitive environment. Smith also applauded Laycoe’s state of the art conditioning program and thoroughness in preparation and motivation which helped many T-Birds reach the next level to play in the Canadian Football League.
Following the 1987 season, Laycoe traveled east to take over as head football coach for the University of Toronto Varsity Blues. In what would be a 14-season tenure between 1988 to 2001, his expertise and impact was immediately evident as he turned around a struggling program and guided U of T to the 1993 Yates and Vanier Cup championship titles. Laycoe earned OUA coach of the year honours in 1992 and was proud to oversee 14 players drafted to the CFL during his time with the Blues.
Laycoe was inducted into the UBC Sports Hall of Fame in 2019 and his impressive achievements have him representing both football and wrestling while also being recognized in the builder category for the blue and gold. Laycoe’s been further honoured with his name adorning the Frank Smith and Bob Laycoe Varsity Training Facility at UBC.
Laycoe will be remembered as a tremendous Thunderbirds student-athlete, coach, and mentor who positively impacted the lives of many players thanks to his outstanding character and nature. Laycoe always emphasized the importance of performance in the classroom as a priority in conjunction with athletic pursuits. His approach was one that included integrity, dedication, and compassion, leading to him influencing so many winners and future community leaders.
Laycoe is survived by his wife of 52 years, Suzanne, and children David and Tonya, and granddaughter Stevie, as well as his brother Bryan and sister Rhonda.