McKay's Corner 8/8

Coach McKay's Corner 8.8.01

Part 2 of how John McKay became the USC Head Football Coach

      "I must be one of the luckiest guys in the world. There's nothing you can do to try and become a head coach. Nothing. Just work hard and be in the right place at the right time. It's unfortunate that our profession is not one in which you can take an examination and move up. You just can't.
      Since I had been the only new addition to the USC staff, and we had gone from a losing team to one that contended for the national title, I probably got more credit than I deserved.
      The night before (Norman) Topping (then USC President) offered me the job, I went to a restaurant with Jerry Frei, who had been an assistant coach with me at Oregon. (Nick) Pappas was so excited that he tracked me down at the restaurant and found Frei and me sitting at the bar.
      He pulled me aside. "John," he said. "How would you like to be head coach?"
      "What are you talking about?" I said. "Are you putting me on?"
      "No," he said. "You're going to be called in tomorrow and offered the job."
      I still couldn't believe it. The next day, December 14, I was sipping coffee in the student union when Topping called me into his office. He told me (Don) Clark was quitting and asked if I would like to have the job. It took me half a second to say yes.
      Topping has since retired as USC President, but he and I have remained close friends, and I'll always remember the support he gave me from the beginning. I know I wouldn't have stayed without him. I can't think of anything worse than being at a university where the president isn't behind you 100%. Topping was always accessible, too. If you have to go through 27 channels to reach the president when you have a problem, you'll never get anything done.
      At ten the next morning, USC had a press conference to introduce John McKay as the new head coach. But Braven Dyer, the most influential sportswriter on the Los Angeles Times, screamed because it was held so early on the day after Santa Anita Racetrack's big cocktail party. He wasn't just mad, he was indignant.
      Many of the other writers were confused. Several wanted to know how to spell my name. One of them wrote, "SC names Mr. Who, " and another referred to me as "a talented but relatively obscure assistant."
      A television sportscaster said: "Don Clark has resigned and Jim McKay is the new coach at USC."
      By this time, my brother Jimmy was a B-52 pilot, stationed near Seattle. He was an Air Force colonel, and was startled to get calls from people who wanted to know if he was leaving the Air Force.
      He phoned the next day. "Listen John," he said. "I have enough trouble flying these planes. Don't get me any coaching jobs."
      The confused reaction by the media didn't bother me. That's the way I would have reacted, too. Who was I? I was nobody.
      Topping was positive, however, as he made the announcement. "We are hopeful, " he said simply, "that John McKay will be with the university for many years to come."
      Then I made those statements all young coaches make. We're going to work hard at recruiting and coaching and we're going to have a fine team and carry on the tradition, and all that. And that was it.
      It was incredible. The right place at the right time."

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

Next week: Coach McKay on relating to players & recruiting
Remember the memorial service on Sept 12 @ Bovard Building on campus.

RIP Coach McKay.
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