McKay's Corner

This week's installment of our look at former USC coach John McKay

Coach McKay's Corner - 7/17-01

As the Trojans begin Pete Carroll's coaching regime here are John McKay's thoughts on what coaching demands...

      "I've often been asked how one becomes a successful big-time coach and often answered that it's simple. Get an OJ Simpson and order him to Run Fast! Catch the ball, and Run for the goalline.
What a coach really has to do is work like hell. During the season every moment I'm awake is devoted to football. The team is the only important part of my life and I lose myself in it.
      So, if you want to be a good coach, the first question you must ask is not how much you know about football, but how much you like it. The game is continually evolving, and you have to keep abreast of the changes. You must like it a lot to do that.
      Then, how much do you like people? Coaching involves a tremendous number of speaking engagements, social functions, and discussions with the news media. The questions about the team never end.
      Next, can you accept criticism? Nobody likes it, and quite often the criticism against coaches is unjust, because people attack without knowing all the facts. Some situations are more delicate than others, and often the coach can't give the whole story.
      For example, in a game a few years ago, I played one of my stars only a few minutes and we lost. I really caught it in the press. What the sportswriters didn't know and I didn't feel I could say was that the young man had received a call from his wife three hours before the game, and she said she was leaving him. I knew it wouldn't be fair to play him with that on his mind.
      How about the pressure? It's tremendous.
      Internal pressure is the toughest. Coaching is very lonely, because one man alone is responsible for the team. There's not one man who takes his first head coaching job and isn't scared. You really don't know how the players and assistants are going to react to you, and the number of problems that hit all at once is shocking. I remember realizing that decisions are not as apparent as I thought when I was a bright young assistant.
      Today no decision scares me. I'll make all the big ones, on and off the field. I'll call the play on the goal line in the fourth quarter. I've seen coaches turn and walk away from the sideline and let someone else call the crucial play. I don't want anyone else to be responsible. If it doesn't work, I'll take the blame. You need that courage to be a good coach.
      Several years ago, Mel Hein, the Hall of Fame center who was in a crouch so long I think it took him 15 years to see the sun, surfaced to make a remark that still amuses me. Hein was an assistant of mine at the time, even though I was several years younger than he was.
      "That kid McKay, said Mel, is so cool about things that he can walk by your table and ice your drinks."
      In some ways a successful coach must also be aloof, at times to the point of arrogance. Not only must he make the big decisions, but he must ignore what people think of him and those decisions. A desire to be liked can kill a coach.
      Another requisite for being a successful coach is a sense of humor. It helps you survive. At times, such as after a tough loss, my jokes are a sort of defense mechanism. If I give the reporters a fast line, it helps them and bails me out. For the players, a quip can ease their suffering. Life will always go on if we lose. You can't tell your team the games are a matter of life and death.
      In the midnight gloom of our dressing room -after that horrible 51-0 loss to Notre Dame- I gathered my players and talked to them for a few moments. Noone felt worse than I did. But before sending them to the showers I said:
      "Forget it guys. Do you realize there are 700 million Chinese who didn't even know the game was played?"
      The next week I got three letters from China complaining about the loss."

All above from McKay: A Coach's Story by John McKay & Jim Perry (1974)

RIP Coach McKay.
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