John McKay, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach (1976-84) who died on Sunday, will be remembered many ways, not the least of which was his lasting impact on the game of football. He won four national championships as the head coach at USC and took the NFL expansion Buccaneers to the NFC Championship Game in just their fourth year of existence.
Perhaps, however, the numbers etched in the USC and Tampa Bay record books will have less staying power than the volumes of wit he committed to the written word through attentive sportswriters. Seventeen years after stepping down from the Buccaneers helm, he is still remembered by Tampa Bay fans for his sharp one-liners and unexpected takes on common questions. He left the same legacy in California.
Former Long Beach Press-Telegram columnist Loel Schrader, who covered McKay's Trojans for 11 years, considered it a joy to cover USC during McKay's tenure.
"He made work fun for sportswriters," said Schrader. "I realize now how lucky I was to be assigned to cover USC football when he was coach. Going to work was a constant joy, and how many people in the world can say that?
"It wasn't just his snappy quotes, although that was part of it, but it was the football wisdom and the wisdom about life that you could see him teaching his players. I've interviewed a lot of his former players in recent years, and those who were distant from him then, perhaps because they were frightened of him, now say they love him. They say he helped prepare them for life. They say, 'We had the best head coach and the best assistant coaches in America.'
"He made sportswriters feel welcome—welcome to go anywhere and ask any question. He swayed many of us—and I'm one of them—to lasting loyalty to him."
That McKay wit lives on today. Below is a smattering of some of his more famous quotes, as compiled by the USC sports information department.
The Wit of John McKay
Why is O.J. Simpson carrying the ball so much?
"Why not? It isn't very heavy. Besides, he doesn't belong to a union."
Asked about his team's execution after a defeat while coaching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
"I think it's a good idea."
After his Tampa Bay team broke its 26-game losing streak:
"Three or four plane crashes and we're in the playoffs."
On pressure from the fans:
"I'll never be hung in effigy. Before every season I send my men out to buy up all the rope in Los Angeles."
On recruiting his son, John (J.K.):
"I had a rather distinct advantage. I slept with his mother."
"Intensity is a lot of guys who run fast."
After his unbeaten 1969 team, known as the Cardiac Kids, beat UCLA, 14-12, on a touchdown pass by Jimmy Jones with 1:32 left:
"I've checked my heart and I don't have one."
When told by two of his top recruits—his son, John (J.K.), a wide receiver, and quarterback Pat Haden—that they were thinking of going to Stanford, he answered:
"If it was between Stanford and Red China, I would pay your way to Peking."
What he said at halftime to his team, trailing Notre Dame 17-0 in 1964 (USC came back to win 20-17):
"If you don't score more than 17 points, you'll lose."
When Trojan kickoff returner Mike Hunter slipped and fell flat on his face on the opening kickoff of the 1965 game at Notre Dame:
"My God. They shot him."
In 1965 in 39 degree weather, USC had to wait on the field–sharing it with screaming Notre Dame students–for 20 minutes before the Irish came out of the locker room prior to the opening kickoff. In his next trip to South Bend in 1967, McKay told the referee that he wasn't coming out before Notre Dame this time, but the ref warned him that in that case the Irish would win by forfeit, 2-0.
"That would be the best deal we've ever gotten in this stadium," he said.
Asked if Notre Dame was the team he most liked to play:
"Well, it certainly wasn't Idaho."
"Boy, do I hate to see that scene in the dressing room where a player gets up with tears in his eyes and says, ''We'll get 'em next year.' 'Damn it,' I think, 'why didn't we get them this year? Don't worry about the next one. Next year may come and we may all be dead.'"