Ex-USC and Tampa Bay Football Coach John McKay Dies
June 10, 2001
LOS ANGELES - Legendary football coach John McKay, who won four national championships at USC before becoming the first head coach of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, died of kidney failure due to complications from diabetes on Sunday (June 10) morning at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, Fla. He was 77.
A memorial service in Tampa will be private. McKay's widow, Corky, is presently undergoing medical treatment for a previous illness, and therefore, a visitation with the family will be scheduled at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the McKay family asks that contributions to the John H. McKay Scholarship Fund be made out to the "USC Athletic Department" and sent to USC senior associate athletic director Don Winston, USC Athletic Department, Heritage Hall 203A, Los Angeles, Calif. 90089-0602. For information regarding recognition on the "Friends of John McKay Wall" at USC's Heritage Hall, contact (213) 740-4155.
McKay still has more victories than any other USC football coach as he posted a 127-40-8 (.749) record during his 16 years (1960-75). He won national crowns in 1962, 1967, 1972 and 1974 and also captured 9 conference titles. He led Troy to 3 undefeated seasons and 9 bowl games, including 5 Rose Bowl victories in 8 appearances. He coached 2 Heisman Trophy winners (Mike Garrett and O.J. Simpson) and 40 Trojans were named All-American first teamers during his tenure. He was national Coach of the Year in 1962 and 1972.
He became only the third coach to win 4 national championships (joining Notre Dame's Frank Leahy and Alabama's Bear Bryant) and is the only coach to take a team to 4 successive Rose Bowls. His teams, which finished in the Top 10 in the polls 9 times, lost only 17 conference games and, from 1971 to 1975, compiled a league-record 28-game unbeaten streak. His record in the Coliseum was 71-19-6.
Besides being known for his success on the field and his dry wit and outspokenness off of it, McKay is regarded as an innovator in college football, as he designed the I-formation offense.
During his last 4 seasons at USC (1972-75), he also served as the school's athletic director.
He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1988 and into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 1991. He also was a member of the 1994 inaugural class of USC's Athletic Hall of Fame.
He resigned as USC's coach after the 1975 season to become the head coach of the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers starting in 1976. Although McKay's Bucs lost their first 26 games, they then emerged as contenders. Tampa Bay made the NFL playoffs three times under McKay, including advancing to the 1979 NFC championship game to become the first expansion club to reach a conference title game within its first four seasons. McKay retired in 1984 at the conclusion of his ninth season in Tampa Bay with a 44-88-1 record.
McKay came to USC in 1959 as an assistant coach under Don Clark after serving as an assistant at Oregon, his alma mater, the previous 9 seasons (1950-58) under Jim Aiken and then Len Casanova.
Born on July 5, 1923 in Everettsville, W. Va., McKay was an All-State running back in football and a star guard in basketball at Shinnston (W. Va.) High. Following graduation, he worked a year in the coal mines and then served in World War II with the Air Force.
He started at defensive back for Purdue in 1946 as a freshman, then transferred to Oregon and was a 2-way starter in 1948 and 1949. He led the Ducks in scoring in 1948 while earning All-American honorable mention and All-Coast first team honors, and his 9-2 team played in the Cotton Bowl. He set 2 school records at Oregon, including highest career average per carry (6.4).
McKay is survived by his wife, Corky (the former Nancy Hunter), sons J.K. and Rich, and daughters Michele Breese and Terri Florio, plus 10 grandchildren. J.K. was the general manager of the now-defunct XFL's Los Angeles Xtreme after starting at split end for his father's Trojans in 1973 and 1974, while Rich is the general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
McKAY'S HEAD COACH RECORD
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
DIVISION YEAR W L T FINISH PLAYOFFS 1976 0 14 0 5 - 1977 2 12 0 5 - 1978 5 11 0 5 - 1979 10 6 0 1 1-1 (def. Eagles, 24-17, lost to Rams, 9-0) 1980 5 10 1 4T - 1981 9 7 0 1 0-1 (lost to Cowboys, 38-0) 1982 5 4 0 4T 0-1 (lost to Cowboys, 30-17) 1983 2 14 0 5 - 1984 6 10 0 3 - TOTALS 44 88 1
Quotes About John McKay
Mike Garrett, USC athletic director and McKay's first Heisman Trophy Winner (1965):
"With the passing of John McKay, part of my life flashes in front of me, probably one of the most important parts of my life, when I learned to have an identity and I learned to be a man. I think there are all sorts of experiences in which young men may have a rite of passage. Mine was on the football field of USC being coached by John McKay.
"I'm forever indebted to him for what he instilled in me. To this day, my whole thinking process involves some of the things I learned from him. He lives with me daily. I shall always remember him.
"I changed a lot in those four years. I became more resolute in my thinking because of John McKay. He was not an equivocal man. You could not be an equivocal person playing for him. I have a sense of direction and an absolute confidence now, and that's what I got from him.
"He had absolute charisma. His personality dominated a room.
"I think where people always underestimated John McKay was that he was a brilliant man. I always marveled at his brilliance--how he could make everything simple, no matter how complex it was. He could break it down to its smallest component. That's a talent I learned from him and something I use every day.
"I remember when he left USC and went to Tampa, I was living in L.A. at the time, and I told him then that a part of me felt lost, because I always knew that I could come on campus and see him. He was a natural gravitational point for me. Now that he's passed, there's no replacing him. Therefore I can only remember him and I shall miss him."
Craig Fertig, USC player and assistant coach under McKay:
"He took a chance on a skinny, scrawny quarterback from Huntington Park. I had the opportunity to play for him and coach for him, and, next to my dad, he was probably the most special guy in my life. Those were the most memorable years of my life. He taught me how to play the game and taught me how to coach it.
"People talk about coaching football, but the man could coach football. When I say that, there are a lot of things besides X's and O's. Everybody thinks a coach comes up with a trick play, or you say something at halftime. He coached every day of the week, 365 days out of the year. And that's what made him special.
"He created a situation at USC where we had an opportunity to win. We could get good players, and that was our job, to recruit the best players. And he would coach us, the assistant football coaches, and then we coached the football team.
"He was one of the great communicators of all time. He would never ask you to do something that he hadn't done, whether it was offense or defense, or recruiting. He'd done everything that he was going to ask you to do. You knew that he expected you to come through. There were no excuses. You didn't say, `Hey, coach, this guy's thinking about going someplace else,' or `Coach, he should have stepped here and I know we screwed up.' No. He wanted the bottom line. We're going to win the damn game. That's the way he coached the game. You expected a lot out of yourself, because of him.
"He didn't throw out many compliments, but when he threw them out, you knew he meant them."
Pat Haden, former USC and Los Angeles Rams quarterback:
"I think he was the best evaluator of talent that I've ever seen. He would have some high school kid who was an All-American linebacker, and the first day he'd watch him practice and say, `You're a tight end.' Two years later, that kid was an All-American tight end. I think he had a great knack for piecing an entire team together. You may have come in as one kind of player, but you would have left a different player, playing a different position, much more successfully.
"The year I lived in his house (Haden was the best friend of McKay's son, J.K., and stayed with the McKays so he could continue to play at Bishop Amat High School after his parents moved to San Francisco), I noticed that in the offseason there was a constancy about his life. He loved western movies, and he loved his yellow legal pads and drawing plays. Every single night that I was there when he was home, he'd have a western on, usually John Wayne, and he'd have one of those yellow legal pads, and for hours he would scribble plays. "For me personally, he was as much a person who served as my best friend's father as he was a football coach. He was my best friend's father 12 months a year and a football coach of mine for three months a year. And so, I had a very good relationship with him. He was sometimes tougher on me because of it and sometimes easier on me. But it was certainly a different relationship.
"Certainly, the year I was living there, remember I was 17 or 18 years old, the formative years of my life, he tried to be more to me than just my best friend's father. He tried to be my father for a year there as well, pulling me aside, advising me on things, things that had nothing to do with football, but just life. And so we had a great relationship. "This is a true story. I was getting recruited by every school in the country and so was John (J.K.). When colleges recruited me, they would actually come to the McKays' house to recruit me. And it was very awkward for a lot of these coaches. When Fresno State or someone like that knocked on the door, he wasn't home. But he always knew when Notre Dame was coming by, or Stanford, or Nebraska, or Alabama. For schools like that, he always answered the door. I kind of had mixed emotions about it. Here the coach from Stanford or Notre Dame is coming to recruit me, and the head coach of USC is answering the door. It was very interesting.
"I hadn't seen Coach McKay in a while, but about two or three years ago, I was down in the desert visiting him, and he had with him the old SC-Notre Dame game from 1974, and we popped it in, and we just had a grand old time. That was as animated as I've seen him in a long time. I hadn't seen the tape for a long, long, long time, and it was kind of fun watching it with him. We were all kind of giving each other a hard time and grief and making fun of John (J.K.) and me, and at this stage of our lives, we were even making fun of the coach."
Jim Perry, USC assistant athletic director and author of McKay: A Coach's Story:
"He was the most unforgettable person I've ever met. To say he was a strong personality is an all-time understatement. When he spoke, everyone listened.
"When the team went to see the movie, Patton, with George C. Scott, there was an instant flash of recognition among his coaching staff. `My God,' they said, `that's Coach!' And, on the field, he was Patton.
"One of the most impressive things he did was turn around the series with Notre Dame. He lost only one of his last nine games against the Irish (going 6-1-2)-and eight of those were against the great Ara Parseghian. "He was demanding, decisive and outspoken, but he was also charming, loyal, and, at times, even shy. And he was one of the funniest public speakers in America."
USC Report columnist Loel Schrader, who covered McKay's Trojans for the Long Beach Press-Telegram for 11 years:
"He made work fun for sportswriters. I realize now how lucky I was to be assigned to cover USC football when he was coach. Going to work was a constant joy, and how many people in the world can say that?
"It wasn't just his snappy quotes, although that was part of it, but it was the football wisdom and the wisdom about life that you could see him teaching his players. I've interviewed a lot of his former players in recent years, and those who were distant from him then, perhaps because they were frightened of him, now say they love him. They say he helped prepare them for life. They say, `We had the best head coach and the best assistant coaches in America.'
"He made sportswriters feel welcome--welcome to go anywhere and ask any question. He swayed many of us--and I'm one of them--to lasting loyalty to him. It was a joy to cover that football team when he was head coach."
The Wit of John McKay
Why is O.J. Simpson carrying the ball so much?
Asked about his team's execution after a defeat while coaching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
After his Tampa Bay team broke its 26-game losing streak:
On pressure from the fans:
On recruiting his son, John (J.K.):
After his unbeaten 1969 team, known as the Cardiac Kids, beat UCLA, 14-12, on a touchdown pass by Jimmy Jones with 1:32 left:
When told by two of his top recruits--his son, John (J.K.), a wide receiver, and quarterback Pat Haden--that they were thinking of going to Stanford, he answered:
What he said at halftime to his team, trailing Notre Dame 17-0 in 1964 (USC came back to win 20-17):
When USC kick returner Mike Hunter fell flat on his face on the opening kickoff of the 1965 game at Notre Dame (a 28-7 USC loss):
In 1965 in 39 degree weather, USC had to wait on the field-sharing it with screaming Notre Dame students-for 20 minutes before the Irish came out of the locker room prior to the opening kickoff. In his next trip to South Bend in 1967, McKay told the referee that he wasn't coming out before Notre Dame this time, but the ref warned him that in that case the Irish would win by forfeit, 2-0.
Asked if Notre Dame was the team he most liked to play: