When Philip Haywood first heard he was among 408 candidates for USA TODAY High School Sports' first-ever Best High School Football Coach competition, he figured he wouldn't last long because his community of Belfry, Ky., probably was too small to garner many votes.
He's rethinking that notion 2,332,660 votes later.
Haywood posted the most votes nationally in each round, including the final round that wrapped up Tuesday. A total of 12,501,928 votes were cast throughout the competition, including more than 3 million in the final round. Haywood received 1,529,789 votes in the final round, holding off a late-charging Kevin Lynott of Middletown, Md., who came in second with 1,311,825 votes in the national round.
"We have a team saying and this fits in with it well," Haywood said. "We tell our team, 'It's not about me, it's not about you, it's about us.' I think that is what our community feels about the football program and that is what this is about."
Belfry is an unincorporated community in Pike County, Ky., smack in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains. It is more a cluster of tiny communities feeding into the school rather than its own separate town, and the area relies heavily on the coal-mining industry.
"We've been hit hard in recent years," Haywood said. "Something like this, as a community, it gives you a little perk. The whole community felt like this could be a ray of sunshine in tough times."
Haywood has been coaching at Belfry for 29 years, after spending nine years as the head coach in his hometown of Prestonsburg, Ky. His overall career record is 371-125, with two state titles in eight trips to the championship game.
His run through the monthlong best coach contest was equally impressive.
Roughly 4.5 million votes were cast during the regional round, with Haywood receiving the most in the country at 653,111. He edged Mike Lalor of Stillman Valley (Stillman, Ill.) in Region Four, as Lalor received 642,342 votes in what turned out to be a heated race to the final buzzer.
The other regional winners were Jim Hightower of St. Thomas More in Lafayette, La., Mike Herrington of Hart in Newhall, Calif., Rick Jones of Greenwood, Ark., Jim Hoover of Walton, N.Y., Lynott of Middletown, Md., Marcus Boyles of Petal, Miss., and Jeff Van Leur of Bridgewater Emery Ethan in Emery, S.D.
The regional round lasted nine days on the heels of a state round in which fans cast approximately 4.8 million total votes. The leading vote-getter among the 408 coaches in the state round was again Haywood with 149,760.
USA TODAY staffers selected eight active head football coaches in each state and Washington, D.C. after more than a month of conversations with local media and other state/school officials with high school football expertise. From there, the fans decided which coach emerged from a list of 408.
The Belfry athletic department will receive $2,000 for Haywood's victory. Second through fifth places also receive cash prizes for the athletic departments: second ($1,000), third ($500), fourth ($250) and fifth ($100). All eight finalists receive banners for their schools.
The "Best Of" contest series launched last November with the best high school football rivalry competition, won by Brookfield vs. Marceline in Missouri. The teams celebrated their national title rivalry on Sept. 13 in Brookfield. In January, Hartford (Vt.) was crowned as the People's Champion high school football team. And the monster of them all – the top high school mascot last spring – was won by the Centralia (Ill.) Orphans after 80 million total votes were cast during the competition.