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He revolutionized power football
By Keith Jackson
Special to

John McKay won at both levels. He was one of the top three or four guys in the golden era of sports in Los Angeles. He occupied a seat on the dais as prominent as any, including the Dodgers and the Lakers. It was the glory years for all of them.

His winning percentage is among the best there is. He just didn't stay in college football as long as some of the others.

John McKay
John McKay led USC to four national football championships.
Around Southern California and the Los Angeles area, John McKay will always be remembered as witty, a tough guy, a good organizer. Not a particular large man until he went into his coaching mode, he was as good as Patton ever was.

He could cut a hole into you as quick as anyone, but he could also be particularly funny. The best line I ever heard him use was when someone questioned how many times he could let O.J. Simpson carry the ball. His answer was, "The ball ain't heavy, and he don't belong to any union." I still use it because it still fits.

John McKay believed in power football. He believed that big, fast people beat little, fast people like old Coach Stagg suggested, and that's the way he coached. Yet some of his biggest stars were small people like Pat Haden.

Student body right and left. Power football. He took the I-formation and went the extra level with it. He recruited people who could block and tackle. In my opinion, he produced the best college football team I have ever seen, the national championship team in 1972. To this day, I still think it's the best overall team I ever watched. No one even came close to them, including Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. They whipped the hell out of everybody.

One game I remember was that 55-24 game against Notre Dame in 1974. It was 24-0 Notre Dame then 24-6 just before halftime. Anthony Davis blew it wide open with a kickoff return to start the second half and they beat the Irish 55-24. With about seven minutes remaining in the ballgame, John put in all the reserves and the crowd booed. They wanted him to kill Notre Dame.

The story goes that Father Hesburgh went by to congratulate him. John's Catholic, and the story goes that Hesburgh said, "John, that was not a terribly nice thing you did." And McKay's answer was that "That's what you get for hiring a Presbyterian."

I liked him. I thought a lot of him. He never changed. He was the same guy every day. He was funny and witty when he was on stage. Otherwise, he was quite private. He was a tough son of a gun on the football field. He led his players. He had a knack for making people do things that they didn't think they could do.

He and Paul Bryant were great friends. In 1970, John took Sam Cunningham and Co. down there and integrated Alabama. The next year, Paul brought the wishbone to the Coliseum and upset a team McKay thought was going to be a national championship team. It was the opening game.

The last time I saw him was on the putting green at my country club, the Los Angeles CC, last year where his son is a member. He had a little glass of vodka, having a nip now and then. He probably was taking money out of his son's pocket.

Keith Jackson is the voice of college football on ABC.  

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