An icon is defined as a person regarded as a representative symbol of something. Bill Faircloth, Coach Fair, or “Big Daddy” as some of you may refer to him as, has undoubtedly established himself as an icon of Wake Forest football.
Genuine, compassionate and extremely humble, Coach Fair found a home at Wake Forest dating back to his undergraduate years. While choosing to attend Wake was a last minute decision for Bill, it ended up being a decision that would shape his entire future; a decision that he would describe as one of the best he ever made.
Bill grew up in Clinton, N.C., where he and his twin brother, Wilbert, both played football. Bill and Wilbert’s original plan was to attend the University of North Carolina, where they were accepted as students and walk-on players for the football team. Much to their surprise, however, there was a completely different plan in the works. “You wouldn’t believe the way things worked out,” Bill stated.
Bill was slated to play in an All-Star football game the summer before heading off to college. Dr. Walt Kitchen, the local surgeon in Clinton, whose father happened to be a former President of Wake Forest, told the coaches about the Faircloth brothers and suggested that they make the trip to the All-Star game to see Bill play.
After a well-played game, the Wake coaches became very interested and invited the brothers to visit campus. Bill and Wilbert made the trip to Winston-Salem at the beginning of August, just prior to school starting, where the coaches ultimately offered the duo a one-year scholarship. It was at this point that both brothers decided to attend Wake Forest, earning full scholarships as time went on.
Bill received three varsity letters as an offensive lineman and served as a team captain during his senior season, in addition to being an All-ACC Academic selection. He graduated from Wake Forest in 1964 with a degree in physical education. While many people struggle to determine exactly what they want to do after they graduate college, Bill had zero doubts. Despite being told by some to choose a different path, he knew he wanted to be a football coach and he set out to make that dream a reality.
As Bill embarked on his journey towards becoming a coach, there was never any question about where he wanted to end up. “I always wanted to come back and coach at Wake Forest and be a part of the university that did so much for me.” In the meantime, however, it was necessary to keep an open mind and seek out any available opportunities, which led him to pursue his master’s degree in education at the University of Alabama.
During his time at Alabama, Bill was able to attend the football team’s practices and spend time with the coaching staff, which proved to be an invaluable learning experience. Upon completion of his master’s degree, he landed his first coaching job at Catawba College, having been recommended by former teammate, Alan White. Bill started by serving as the Assistant Coach for both football and track & field, in addition to teaching two health courses. He remained at Catawba for 10 years, serving as the Head Football Coach for the last three years, prior to moving on and becoming the Assistant Football Coach at Duke.
After his second season with the Blue Devils, former teammate and then Head Coach of Wake Forest, John Mackovic, extended an offer to Bill to join the Wake coaching staff. This was exactly the opportunity Bill had been waiting for. Without hesitation, he accepted the position and officially joined Wake Forest as an Assistant Coach during the 1978 season and has been here ever since.
Aside from Assistant Coach, Bill has held various roles during his tenure at Wake, including running Piccolo and Palmer dorms, being in charge of video for the football team, serving as the Head of Academic Counseling for football and basketball, as well as his current position of Assistant Athletic Director for Football. “I’ve done a little bit of everything,” said Coach Fair.
Wake Forest and the football program mean everything to Bill. “Next to my family, Wake Forest football has been my life.” Having the ability to help young people is what he cites as his greatest achievement, and he loves that they help keep him young. “Seeing these young guys mature, graduate, and come back with a good job and a good family…you have to look at it and be glad that you had a little bit to do with their success.”
Coach Fair notes how much things have changed from the time he was a player here, taking special notice of the resources and state-of-the-art facilities our student-athletes have access to. Seeing how much of an impact this type of support can have, Bill has been an active Deacon Club member for 38 years, helping to invest in our student-athletes and providing them with the tools they need to be successful. “The Deacon Club provides these kids with amazing opportunities. The student-athletes work incredibly hard, but without the Deacon Club we wouldn’t be able to equip them with everything they need to succeed,” said Bill.
Currently in his 38th season with the Deacs, Coach Fair has experienced a plethora of highs and lows. With that said, he has created countless memories. Some of the moments that stand out most to him are beating Auburn at home in 1979, winning the ACC Championship with a win over Georgia Tech in 2006 and hearing Arnold Palmer talk to the 2006 team at the Orange Bowl. Bill also says that he’ll always remember this year’s win over Virginia to become bowl eligible, knowing that he wanted the team to go to one more bowl before he retired. After this season’s bowl game, Coach Fair will indeed retire.
Bill was able to achieve his career goals of coming back to coach at Wake and helping to build the football program into what it is today, but he couldn’t have done it without the constant support of his loving family. “I’m the luckiest man alive,” he said. Bill has been married to his wife, Becky, for 51 years and they have three sons, Scott (’89, MBA ’94), Barry (’93) and Woody (’90), all of whom graduated from Wake Forest. Coach Fair’s twin brother was always a big supporter of his, as well, and was a major influence on him growing up. Wilbert was diagnosed with leukemia twenty-five years ago and underwent a bone marrow transplant with Bill being the bone marrow donor, evincing the true importance of family.
The Nov. 26 game against Boston College included two very special milestones for Coach Fair: it was the 451st consecutive Wake Forest football game he attended, and it was the second time that he was recognized as the Open the Gate Honoree. Aside from Arnold Palmer, Bill is the only person to receive this honor twice.
As he retires and moves on, Coach Fair knows that he’ll miss the team and helping the players learn and grow, but he looks forward to spending time with his family, especially his 10 grandchildren. While he still plans to continue his streak of consecutive Wake Forest games attended, Bill looks forward to tailgating and enjoying the games from a different perspective. “I may not be on the sideline, but I’ll be there.”
Coach Fair has had an incredible career with Wake Forest and he is loved by so many. Although he may not be around the team and his former players every day after he retires, he will always be there to support them. “If ever I can help you with anything, just get in touch with Big Daddy.”
(Note: This article was originally published in the January 2017 issue of Gold Rush.)