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Birth:
05 Jul 1923 1
Everettville, WV 1
Death:
10 Jun 2001 1
Tampa, FL 1
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Full Name:
John Harvey McKay 1
Also known as:
John McKay 1
Birth:
05 Jul 1923 1
Everettville, WV 1
Male 1
Death:
10 Jun 2001 1
Tampa, FL 1
Cause: Diabetes 1
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Mother: Gertrude McKay 1
Father: John McKay 1
Marriage:
Corky Hunter 1
1950 1
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Football Coach 1
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Catholic 1
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Scottish 1

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John McKay, U.S.C. and Buccaneers Coach, Dies at 77

John McKay, who coached the University of Southern California football team to four unofficial national championships, then coached for nine seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, died yesterday at a hospital in Tampa, Fla. He was 77.

The cause was kidney failure arising from diabetes, said Reggie Roberts, a Buccaneers spokesman.

Serving as the U.S.C. head coach from 1960 through 1975, McKay coached the team to national titles in 1962, 1967, 1972 and 1974, nine titles in the conference then known as the Pacific-8, nine postseason bowl games and a 127-40-8 record. In 1962 and 1972, he was voted the national coach of the year.

Then he moved on to Tampa Bay, a new National Football League team, as coach from 1976 through 1984. In those days, few good players were available in the expansion draft and free agency did not yet exist, so he started with little talent.

His team lost its first 26 games -- 14 the first season and the first 12 the next. After one of those losses, when he was asked what he thought of his team's execution, he replied, ''I think it's a good idea.'' When asked when his team would win a game, he said, ''Only God knows, and I'm not too close to God now.''

In 1979, his fourth season, the Bucs won their division title. They won it again in 1981, and in all, three of his teams qualified for the playoffs. But after losing seasons in 1983 and 1984 and a nine-year record of 44-88-1, he quit as coach and became the team president.

He was brash, opinionated, witty and quick with one-liners, a popular banquet speaker who made 286 appearances in one year. But he was also remote from his players, saying his only obligation was to coach them, not befriend them.

As Richard Wood, a linebacker who played for him in college and the pros, said, ''He can draw you in, but to me and a bunch of the other players, he's a cold person.''

McKay's closest friends were lawyers, bankers and football coaches, although John Ralston, the former Stanford coach, once said, ''You always had a feeling that it was a friendly relationship, but you were never close.'' Still, McKay was so close to Bear Bryant, the legendary coach, that he declined to speak at Bryant's funeral because he feared he would break down.

The knocks did not bother McKay.

''If you coach long enough, you're put into some kind of category,'' he said in 1983. ''Tom Landry is the fellow who doesn't smile. Don Shula is the brilliant young coach with his jaw out. John McKay is the guy with the ready quip. Somebody reads enough about you and has that perception. Then they meet you and say: 'That guy's not like that. He never spoke to us.' I don't try to entertain people. Some people say, 'He's aloof.' But I'm not that way. I am the way I am.''

John Harvey McKay was born July 5, 1923, in Everettsville, W.Va., and grew up in nearby Shinnston, 50 miles south of Pittsburgh. He was one of five children of a coal-mine supervisor who died at 45.

The son was an all-state running back in high school, and in his spare time he swept floors and carried cement at a coal-mine construction site. After high school, he worked a year in coal mines and then enlisted in the Army Air Forces during World War II.

In 1946, he entered Purdue and started at defensive back. After one year, he transferred to Oregon, where he was a two-way player.

He graduated from Oregon in 1950 and became an assistant coach there, starting at $3,800 a year plus occasional meals at the head coach's home. He stayed for nine seasons, then moved to Southern Cal in 1959 as an assistant.

A year later, he was the head coach, and the next year he introduced a revolutionary offensive formation, the I, in which three backs lined up in a row behind the center. The one farthest from the center was the tailback, the main ball carrier.

He turned out pre-eminent tailbacks, including two Heisman Trophy winners (O. J. Simpson and Mike Garrett) and two other All-Americans (Anthony Davis and Ricky Bell). His college and pro assistants included John Robinson, Joe Gibbs, Mike Holmgren and Wayne Fontes. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1988.

He left U.S.C., he said, ''because I wanted to make some money -- it's that simple.''

As college coach and athletic director, he was earning $48,000 a year. His first pro contract gave him $750,000 over five years, $250,000 in Florida real estate and life-insurance policies for him and his wife. The money was good, but his teams often were not.

''I'll tell you how bad we were,'' he said of his second pro season. ''We beat New Orleans, and their coach, Hank Stram, was fired the next day. Then we beat the St. Louis Cardinals, and they promptly fired their coach, Don Coryell.''

He was never really happy at Tampa Bay, and he quit coaching partly to spend more time with his family. He married Corky Hunter in 1950, and they lived in Tampa. He is survived by his wife; two sons, Rich and John; two daughters, Michele Breese and Terri Florio; and 10 grandchildren. Rich McKay is general manager of the Bucs. John McKay, who played for his father at Southern Cal and Tampa Bay, was general manager of the Los Angeles Xtreme, the champions of the XFL in its only season.

McKay's sense of humor never disappeared. At age 77, he told Steve Bisheff of The Orange County Register: ''I don't look that bad, do I? I probably could go 10 rounds with Mickey Rooney.''

The Notre Dame-Southern Cal football luncheon in Los Angeles last November had been a three-hour parade of memories, and eyelids were heavy by the time featured speaker John McKay, the former USC and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach, was called to the mike. "Congratulations, this is the longest meal since the last supper," said the 75-year-old McKay, prompting a roar of laughter from the crowd. Humor has always served McKay well. He used it to deflect the pressures that came with winning four national championships in 16 years at USC and to explain why he had lost an NFL-record 26 straight games as the first coach of the expansion Bucs. (When asked after one Tampa Bay defeat what he thought of his team's execution, he said, "I think it's a good idea.") No one ever joked about McKay's coaching acumen. During his tenure USC established itself as a perennial powerhouse and became known as Tailback U, producing Heisman Trophy winners Mike Garrett and O.J. Simpson as well as All-Americas Anthony Davis and Ricky Bell. Many observers were surprised in 1975 when McKay gave up his status as a college football baron to be the coach of Tampa Bay. "I left USC because I wanted to make some money—it's that simple," says McKay, who at the time of his departure was earning $48,000 a year to serve as both coach and athletic director. He earned considerably more in his first year with the Bucs but suffered through an 0-14 season. Tampa Bay's blunder with the No. 1 pick in the 1977 draft, selecting Bell instead of Heisman winner and future Dallas Cowboys star Tony Dorsett, made them the laughingstock of the NFL, and the Bucs lost their first 12 games that fall before finishing 2-12. "I should have seen it coming in our first year when our middle linebackers had eight knee surgeries among them," says McKay of his woebegone Bucs, who—unlike the new Cleveland Browns or the playoff-ready Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars—were launched in an era when expansion drafts yielded little and free agency did not exist. "We had no talent and no way to get it," he says. Yet McKay steadily built Tampa Bay, and in 1979 the Bucs went 10-6 to win the NFC Central. It was sweet vindication for McKay, who stepped down as Tampa Bay coach after the 1984 season. While McKay still follows football from his home in Tampa and keeps up with former players like Garrett and Lynn Swann, the strategist known as the Silver Fox doesn't meddle in the business of son Rich, 40, the Bucs' current G.M. "He gives me advice these days," John says of his son. Though he still cracks jokes at the occasional banquet, McKay, who with wife Corky has nine grandchildren, spends the majority of his time answering to Poppy. "It's great," he says. "I can't ever remember having nine best buddies."

John McKay's appointment as USC football coach in 1960 helped usher in the golden age of Southern California sports. Like Walter O'Malley, who had brought his Dodgers to Los Angeles two years earlier, McKay realized the significance of the country's westward migration in the postwar years. Seeing a burgeoning talent pool, McKay recruited almost exclusively in his backyard. On his 1967 national championship team, 69 of 78 players came from the L.A. area. McKay, who died on Sunday from kidney failure due to complications from diabetes, at age 77, won three other national titles with the Trojans, in 1962, '72 and '74. The USC job was his first as head coach, and he proved to be a natural in the spotlight. His quick wit and cool demeanor made him a star in a town full of stars. ( Johnny Carson and Frank Sinatra were among his buddies.) To get his players loose before a big game, McKay once told them, "We ought to keep in mind that there are over 600 million Chinese who don't care whether we win or lose." Another time, he jogged onto the field before a game in South Bend singing the Notre Dame fight song. At heart, however, McKay was a fierce competitor. After the Irish routed his Trojans 51-0 in 1966, he vowed he would never again lose to Notre Dame. He nearly pulled it off, going 6-1-2 in his final nine games against the Irish. McKay was also a tactical innovator: With his modified I formation, in which the tailback started seven yards behind the line and agile linemen pulled out in front of him to block, he created one of the college game's most powerful running attacks. It's no coincidence that Mike Garrett (1965) and O.J. Simpson (1968) won Heismans playing tailback for McKay. McKay left USC in 1975 to become the first coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Though it took him nearly two seasons to win a game, he had the Bucs playing for the NFC title in his fourth year, a feat he took in stride. "A genius in the National Football League," McKay said with typical deflection, "is a guy who won last week."

Legendary Coach John McKay Dies

John McKay, the colorful and innovative coach who restored dominance to USC's football program, making it a feared college powerhouse, died Sunday in Tampa, Fla. He was 77.

In 16 seasons at USC, McKay led the Trojans to four national championships and coached two Heisman Trophy winners. He was almost as well known for his legendary one-liners and quick retorts.

McKay, who left USC after the 1975 season to become the first coach of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, had been in the intensive care unit at St. Joseph's Hospital since last month. He died of kidney failure due to complications from diabetes, Buccaneer spokesman Reggie Roberts said.

Once an electrician's assistant in a West Virginia coal mine and later a World War II tail gunner, McKay took over the USC program in 1960 and restored it to the national prominence it had known in the 1920s and '30s, producing 40 first-team All-American players. Among them were Heisman Trophy winners Mike Garrett in 1965 and O.J. Simpson in 1968, the first two in a line of outstanding running backs that earned the school the nickname Tailback U.

USC was 127-40-8 under McKay, losing only 17 conference games.

Three of his Trojan teams were unbeaten, nine won Pacific 8 Conference championships and eight played in the Rose Bowl, winning five times. His 1962, 1967, 1972 and 1974 teams won college football's national championships.

"I think he was the best evaluator of talent that I've ever seen," said former USC quarterback Pat Haden, who helped McKay win the 1974 national title. "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."

McKay was not nearly as successful with the expansion Buccaneers. But after losing their first 26 games under McKay, an NFL record, the Buccaneers rebounded and in only their fourth season came within one victory of playing in the Super Bowl, falling short when they lost to the Los Angeles Rams, 9-0, in the 1979 National Football Conference title game.

The Buccaneers made three playoff appearances in nine seasons under McKay, who retired after the 1984 season with a 44-88-1 record.

McKay's players remembered him as a blunt, demanding coach who rarely brought his famous sense of humor to the practice field.

Recalled Haden, perhaps his best quarterback: "His relationship with his players wasn't the same as it was with the press. He was tough on his players, very demanding. He expected an awful lot."

It is the McKay humor--the briskly delivered quip, often with a cigar as his prop--that football followers will remember for as long as his powerful teams.

A sampling:

When questioned after a loss during the early days at Tampa Bay about his team's execution, he responded, "I think it's a good idea."

  Legendary Coach John McKay Dies Sports: He led USC to four national football titles and five Rose Bowl victories in 16 years. June 11, 2001|EARL GUSTKEY and JERRY CROWE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS
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John McKay, the colorful and innovative coach who restored dominance to USC's football program, making it a feared college powerhouse, died Sunday in Tampa, Fla. He was 77.

In 16 seasons at USC, McKay led the Trojans to four national championships and coached two Heisman Trophy winners. He was almost as well known for his legendary one-liners and quick retorts.

McKay, who left USC after the 1975 season to become the first coach of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, had been in the intensive care unit at St. Joseph's Hospital since last month. He died of kidney failure due to complications from diabetes, Buccaneer spokesman Reggie Roberts said.

Once an electrician's assistant in a West Virginia coal mine and later a World War II tail gunner, McKay took over the USC program in 1960 and restored it to the national prominence it had known in the 1920s and '30s, producing 40 first-team All-American players. Among them were Heisman Trophy winners Mike Garrett in 1965 and O.J. Simpson in 1968, the first two in a line of outstanding running backs that earned the school the nickname Tailback U.

USC was 127-40-8 under McKay, losing only 17 conference games.

Three of his Trojan teams were unbeaten, nine won Pacific 8 Conference championships and eight played in the Rose Bowl, winning five times. His 1962, 1967, 1972 and 1974 teams won college football's national championships.

"I think he was the best evaluator of talent that I've ever seen," said former USC quarterback Pat Haden, who helped McKay win the 1974 national title. "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."

McKay was not nearly as successful with the expansion Buccaneers. But after losing their first 26 games under McKay, an NFL record, the Buccaneers rebounded and in only their fourth season came within one victory of playing in the Super Bowl, falling short when they lost to the Los Angeles Rams, 9-0, in the 1979 National Football Conference title game.

The Buccaneers made three playoff appearances in nine seasons under McKay, who retired after the 1984 season with a 44-88-1 record.

McKay's players remembered him as a blunt, demanding coach who rarely brought his famous sense of humor to the practice field.

Recalled Haden, perhaps his best quarterback: "His relationship with his players wasn't the same as it was with the press. He was tough on his players, very demanding. He expected an awful lot."

It is the McKay humor--the briskly delivered quip, often with a cigar as his prop--that football followers will remember for as long as his powerful teams.

A sampling:

When questioned after a loss during the early days at Tampa Bay about his team's execution, he responded, "I think it's a good idea."

On being asked once why Simpson carried the ball so often: "Why not? It isn't very heavy. Besides, he doesn't belong to a union."

On being asked about emotion in football: "It's overrated. My wife is emotional, but she's a lousy football player."

At Notre Dame, upon seeing one of his players, Mike Hunter, catch the opening kickoff, then fall down: "My God, they shot him."

To Doug Williams, a former Grambling quarterback who was drafted by the Buccaneers in 1978, McKay was an inspiration and an innovator. At a time when an African American quarterback was an anomaly, McKay didn't hesitate to use blacks in the sport's most important position.

"When I was growing up watching football in Louisiana . . . my two favorite teams were the Grambling State University Tigers and the University of Southern California Trojans, and my two favorite coaches were [Grambling's] Eddie Robinson and John McKay," Williams said. "SC, at that time, had a black QB named Jimmy Jones. And I knew that if John McKay at that time was playing black quarterbacks, you realized that it wasn't about color with that individual."

At USC, McKay was an obscure assistant when he joined Coach Don Clark's staff in 1959 after serving as an assistant coach at Oregon through most of the decade. USC had risen to national prominence under Howard Jones in the 1920s and '30s, but Trojan football fortunes had softened in subsequent decades.

When Clark resigned after the '59 season, USC President Norman Topping made McKay, then 36, the head coach, giving him a one-year contract.

Recalling the promotion years later, McKay said: "Dr. Topping told me at the time, 'Let's see how it goes next season, then we'll talk about extending the contract.'

"Well, we went 4-6 in 1960, and I figured that was it. On the Monday after the last game, Dr. Topping told me to meet him at Julie's [a USC neighborhood restaurant that McKay later helped make famous] that evening. Just when we started to talk, Dan Hafner of the L.A. Times and a bunch of other sportswriters walked in.

"They ordered a round of vodkas. Then they ordered another round. Pretty soon, Dr. Topping forgot why we were there."

McKay wasn't long in restoring Trojan football to what it had been in 1928, 1931 and 1932, when Jones' "Thundering Herd" teams won national titles.

His 1961 team was 4-5-1, but in 1962 the Trojans capped an 11-0 season with a memorable 42-37 victory over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. From then until McKay's departure for the NFL in 1976, his teams finished among the top 10 in the Associated Press poll eight times.

His 1972 team, featuring All-American fullback Sam Cunningham, was his masterpiece, a team still considered among the best in college football history.

Perhaps the most memorable game the Trojans ever played under McKay was the USC-Notre Dame classic at the Coliseum in 1974.

Trailing at halftime, 24-6, the Trojans staged one of the greatest rallies in modern football and won, 55-24.

Years later, McKay aide Nick Pappas recalled McKay's halftime instructions:

"He told the team: 'Here's what we're going to do. We get the second-half kickoff. Anthony Davis is going to catch it, you guys are going to block, and he's going to run it back for a touchdown, and that'll be the end of Notre Dame.' "

And it was.

Davis' 102-yard return ignited the Trojans, who, including the last play of the first half, scored 55 points in less than 17 minutes.

While at USC, McKay was seven times courted by NFL teams, most often by the Rams. In 1965, he turned down the Rams' offer of $40,000 a year at a time when he was making $18,500 at USC.

In 1975, however, McKay finally succumbed to the NFL, accepting a 10-year, $250,000-a-year offer from the Buccaneers.

McKay, then 52, confided to a friend: "People in Tampa Bay think I'm going to go down there, coach a few years, make all that money, retire, move to Newport Beach and move into the Balboa Bay Club. And you know what? They're absolutely right."

As it turned out, McKay remained in Tampa in retirement, though he often spent winters in the Palm Springs area.

Born July 5, 1923, in Everettsville, W.Va., John Harvey McKay grew up in several rough-and-tumble West Virginia coal towns.

He was the third of five children born to Scotch Irish parents, John and Gertrude McKay. John McKay was a coal mine superintendent who died when McKay was 13.

McKay graduated from high school in 1941 and was offered a football scholarship by Wake Forest. He was there, enrolling, when his mother became ill. He returned home and became a coal mine electrician's assistant.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, McKay was earning $6.75 a day in the mines. He joined the Army Air Corps in 1942 and became a tail gunner, seeing action on B-29s in the Pacific.

Both McKay and an older brother, Jimmy (a pilot), survived the war, but youngest brother Richard was killed at 18 when his minesweeper was torpedoed in the North Atlantic.

After the war, at 23, McKay played football at Purdue before transferring in 1947 to Oregon. He became a noted running back on the 1948 and '49 teams, but his playing career abruptly ended in the 1949 Oregon-California game when he suffered a knee injury.

McKay, 27, married and with a baby on the way, became a $2,800-a-year Oregon assistant coach in 1950.

Before leaving for USC in 1959, he had never made more than $7,500 a year as an assistant coach.

At USC, McKay's teams were known for quick-striking firepower, largely from big, fast running backs.

He is credited with refining the I formation, with the fullback and tailback lined up directly behind the quarterback. USC tailbacks Garrett and Simpson, running out of the I, ran for a combined 6,644 yards in their Heisman careers.

"McKay didn't invent the I; he popularized it by winning with it," said Dave Levy, a former assistant. "In the summer of '62, he said one day, 'You know, we should run plays out of this.' So we did. And Willie Brown became the first USC tailback to run out of the I."

McKay is survived by his wife, Corky, whom he met while a student at Oregon and married in 1950. He also is survived by their four children, Michelle, Terri, Richard and John Jr., who played college and pro football for his father.

"As great a coach as he was, he was an even better dad," John Jr. said Sunday.

Private services will be held in Tampa. Contributions may be made to the John McKay Fund, USC Athletic Department, Heritage Hall, Los Angeles, CA 90089.

 

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