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Legendary High School Football Coach On Career: 'Athletics Is Just Like Life'


When John McKissick first started coaching football, Harry Truman was president. Well, after 63 years as head football coach at Summerville High School in South Carolina, John McKissick has decided to retire. Sixty-three years - in that time, he won 621 games - that's more than any high school football coach ever - and 10 state championships. Here's what coach McKissick said when he announced his retirement yesterday.


JOHN MCKISSICK: What did the old Satchel Paige say? He said, how old would you be if you didn't know how old you were? Well, if I didn't know how old I was, I would probably be in the 40s, but I know I'm approaching 89 pretty soon yet.

BLOCK: And Coach McKissick joins us now from his office at Summerville High School. Welcome to the program.

MCKISSICK: Thank you.

BLOCK: And you feel like a young man at heart still?

MCKISSICK: Yeah, I still feel good. I've been out in the sun so much. I got a little skin cancer popping up every now and then, but the insides to be holding up pretty good.


BLOCK: Was this a hard decision to come to, Coach?

MCKISSICK: Yes, it was real hard, and it's emotional. And when you've been getting up every morning and coming to a place that you enjoy coming to - and, well, as I can remember now - I think I'm telling the truth - I've never gotten up one morning in my life and dreaded going to work.

BLOCK: How many players do you figure you've coached in all that time?

MCKISSICK: My wife has kept a record of every year that I've coached. She's got big scrapbooks - every year.

BLOCK: Oh, yeah?

MCKISSICK: And I think maybe about 5,500.

BLOCK: No kidding.

MCKISSICK: That's a lot.

BLOCK: That is a whole lot (laughter). And some of them have gone on to great things in football, I think, right?

MCKISSICK: Yeah, they have had great things in football. Some of them are great community workers, doctors, lawyers. I got a lot of them I'm proud of.

BLOCK: What's your style been as coach?

MCKISSICK: Be fair. Treat all the kids the same, whether they are super athlete or whether they got on the team just not a good athlete. Be truthful to the parents when they ask you, why aren't you doing this? Or why isn't my son doing that? Let them know that you might make a mistake, but the cream generally comes to the top, and it'll work itself (unintelligible).

BLOCK: I would think it's going to be a hard thing for you, Coach McKissick, when it comes to a fall Friday night, and you know you're not going to be there on the sidelines during a game.

MCKISSICK: Well, I guess I'll be sitting in the stands somewhere by myself, getting away 'cause I don't want to interfere with anything.

BLOCK: You'll still be going to the games.

MCKISSICK: (Laughter) But I'll still go to the games.

BLOCK: Would you be tempted to get down there and start coaching again?

MCKISSICK: No, I won't criticize. Athletics is just like life. It's a blame game. And if they would throw pass and it's complete, boy, that was a nice play that the coach just took care of. And then you throw the pass and it's intercepted and - why the devil did he throw that pass?

BLOCK: (Laughter).

MCKISSICK: So I'm going to stay away from all that stuff.

BLOCK: Well, have you given much thought to what you'll fill your time with now that you're retired?

MCKISSICK: Not really. I made a deal with my wife. I'll be 89 in September, and she's 84. And I told her - I said, I'm going to give you a week, and I'm going to take a week, and we're going to alternate weeks. The first week, if you want it, you got the last word. The next week, I got the last word, and that way we won't have a fuss.


BLOCK: And you'll see how that works out?

MCKISSICK: Yeah, that ought to work out.

BLOCK: How does she feel about that?

MCKISSICK: She laughs (laughter). I don't know whether she cannot have the last word (laughter).

BLOCK: Well, Coach McKissick, thanks for talking with us, and all of the best in your retirement. Appreciate it.

MCKISSICK: Thank you, and it was nice talking to you.

BLOCK: That's John McKissick. He's announced he's retiring as football coach of Summerville High School in South Carolina after 63 years. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.