Why Was McKay Special?

For this coach there is almost a reverential feeling from those who wear Cardinal and Gold and it is a feeling that is rooted back in the 1960's when McKay set about creating the centerpiece for the athletic heritage at USC.

For this coach there is almost a reverential feeling from those who wear Cardinal and Gold and it is a feeling that is rooted back in the 1960's when McKay set about creating the centerpiece for the athletic heritage at USC with his championship football teams. His legacy is certainly highlighted by the play of his teams on the field but McKay also brought a sense of dignity and respect that simply helped set the Trojans apart from the rest. He gave the University a unique sense of pride in his accomplishments yet those who knew him remember the man more than they do the coach.

McKay had a legendary sense of humor, a dry wit that launched a thousand one-liners, many of which stand the test of time so many years later. Who doesn't laugh when they hear McKay asked after a tough loss about his teams execution and he responds, "I think it's a pretty good idea." To those who wondered about the wisdom of having O.J. Simpson carrying the ball too many times, McKay wondered, "Why not, the ball's not heavy." He brought quarterbacks Craig Fertig and Pete Beatherd into his office one day to put an end to the baseball playing days of his signal-callers. McKay never put down his newspaper when the players walked in the room and all they could see was a puff of smoke from his cigar rising above the paper. McKay spoke, "You guys aren't good enough to play two sports. Pick one." Both players quickly answered, "We're football players, coach." McKay growled, "Good choice. Now get out of my office."

Of course, his numbers on the field as leader of the Men of Troy speak for themselves. Four national championships. Two Heisman Trophy winners. Five Rose Bowl titles and three undefeated seasons. His 1972 team is considered one of the best in college football history and the 1974 USC-Notre Dame is easily the greatest comeback of all-time. He was known as an innovative coach on the field, one who popularized the traditional I-formation and who surrounded himself with a quality staff of assistants who coached the team in his image. The list of former assistants under McKay reads like a Who's Who in football circles; Joe Gibbs, Dave Levy, Wayne Fontes, Marv Goux and Dick Coury are just a few on the list. McKay was also largely credited with helping to break down a major wall when he brought his team to play Alabama in 1970 and the performance of tailback Sam Cunningham that day helped lead to the integration of the Tide football team.

He left USC far too soon for many of us and it is easy to sit back at times and wonder what he could have accomplished had he stayed and finished his career with the Trojans but what he gave us while he was here will last forever. It was a glorious time at USC when McKay strolled the sideline because the Trojans were kings of the college football landscape and there is no denying his impact or the fact that he and his teams acted in a manner that instilled great pride in doing things the right way. To look for the source of what we all know today as Trojan pride and the sense of Trojan Family you don't have to look much further than John McKay to find out where it all started.

There are many who claim that we Trojans have spent the past 25 years trying to reclaim the glory days under McKay and they may very well be right. Times were good and we knew what we had while he was here. The fact is, however, that we knew what we were missing because we had it in the first place. When Trojans talk about recognizing quality football we can speak from experience because we have seen the best in action. The majority of schools across the country will never know the joy we felt during his reign and, thanks to him, when we return to the top of the mountain it will be a familiar place for all of us because we have been there before. John McKay was ours and what he did for this school will always hold a special place in the hearts of Trojan fans. Rest in peace, Coach, you will be missed.

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