John McKay, Football Coach October 2, 1967

April 26, 1999
April 26, 1999

Table of Contents
April 26, 1999

Faces In The Crowd

John McKay, Football Coach October 2, 1967

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.

This is an article from the April 26, 1999 issue Original Layout

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

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 O'Keefe

Humor served McKay well, but no one ever joked about his coaching