The enduring legacy of coach John McKay

As the completion of the John McKay Center nears, Trojan players and fans alike have a lot to be happy about. The new three-story athletic facility features 110,000 square feet of space which includes weight rooms, football offices and even an indoor practice field. Such facilities are vital in this era of college football, where flash and glamor are often selling points for recruits.

Quite the character · John McKay coached USC from 1960-1975. He won four national titles, but was known just as much for his wit. - Photo courtesy of USC Athletics

As USC fans, however, we should not only celebrate this historic building as a tool to make players better, but must see it in its historical context, for the man it was named for: John McKay. For without the legendary coach, USC football would not be where it is today.

McKay took the coaching job at USC in 1960 after being an assistant for both Oregon and, later, USC. His tenure hardly started well; the Trojans finished with eight total wins in his first two seasons. It did not look like the McKay era was going to be anything special.

The tide turned, however, in 1962. McKay’s squad finished the season 11-0 and capped off the season with a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. The Trojans would win three more national championships under McKay in 1967, 1972 and 1974. They won the Pac-8 Conference nine times in his 16 seasons.

Though the wins and losses are crucial to McKay’s legacy, he was much more than just a 127-40-8 record. He was a character. He was a man that changed football in Los Angeles for good.

McKay saw two Heisman Trophy winners walk through campus in Mike Garrett (1965) and OJ Simpson (1968). He coached quarterback Pat Haden, NFL Hall of Fame receiver Lynn Swann, “Notre Dame Killer” Anthony Davis and Sam Cunningham — the runningback who, for all intents and purposes, caused the South Eastern Conference to integrate in 1970, forever changing the landscape of college football.

McKay might be most noted for his wit and his quotations, many of which Trojan fans remember to this day.

When asked why Simpson had 47 carries in a game, he replied, “He doesn’t belong to a union. Anyway, the ball doesn’t weigh that much.”

When asked about his team’s less-than-stellar performance, he retorted with, “We didn’t tackle well today, but we made up for it by not blocking.”

Perhaps his most famous line came while he was the coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was asked what he thought of his team’s execution in a loss. His response? “I’m all for it.”

John McKay changed football at USC. Yes, the Trojans had success in prior years, winning championships under legendary coach Howard Jones, but McKay created a culture of winning.

Pete Carroll brought USC football back; McKay made the tradition a legend. The legacy of “Tailback U” would not exist if McKay hadn’t installed the I-Formation into his offenses. The Trojans would have four less banners to show in Heritage Hall were it not for McKay. There would be two less Heisman Trophies.

But most of all, there is a good chance that USC football would have been stuck in mediocrity. Sure, a great coach could have come in and won many games. But McKay didn’t just win games; he won students and fans with his success and character.

The next time you walk by the McKay Center, which is expected to be finished in the fall, admire it for more than its impressive exterior. Admire it for more than the fact that it gives the Trojans another edge in recruiting the best players in the country.

Instead, admire it for the man it is named after. The man who made USC football what it is today. The man who changed college football for the entire country.


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