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John McKay is gone, another pillar fallen.

How better to measure a man’s legacy than to say, a quarter-century after he left USC, the school has yet to replace him.

Oh, how the Trojans have tried. John Robinson gave it a good run, winning one-half share of a national football championship, USC’s only since McKay.

USC trotted in Larry Smith, Ted Tollner, Robinson II, Paul Hackett and now Pete Carroll.

None are/were/or will ever be John McKay.

McKay, who died Sunday at 77, was part of Los Angeles sporting Camelot in the 1960s, arguably the most romantic time in our city’s history.

It was an era of Koufax, Wooden, West, Baylor, Gabriel and McKay. We had Vin Scully and Chick Hearn on mike and Jim Murray behind the typewriter.


McKay held a seat in this high court.

The kids won’t remember. They don’t remember last week.

But McKay dominated in the most competitive situation imaginable.

In 16 years, he won four national championships at USC in a town where the Koufax and Drysdale Dodgers hogged the headlines and Coach John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins turned the NCAA basketball tournament into a farce.

McKay won four titles in an era when his contemporaries were Bear Bryant, Ara Parseghian, Darrell Royal, Woody Hayes, Tommy Prothro and Joe Paterno.

Not bad, huh?

McKay redefined USC football, raised the bar so high not even Trojan great Bob Seagren couldn’t vault it.

McKay was so good, like Wooden at UCLA, he left the program in a perpetual state of unattainable expectations.

There was USC football tradition before McKay, but you’d have to remember how to do the Charleston to recall it.

Howard Jones had his “Thundering Herd,” but USC football went 30 years between national titles from the time Jones won his last in 1932 to McKay’s first in 1962.

McKay was 36 when he got the job in 1960, and brought more self-confidence to the program than a man his age probably had a right to have.

McKay didn’t invent the “I” formation, but boy did he expand on it.

He learned how the “I” worked from a young junior college coach in Washington by the name of Don Coryell.

Yet, McKay transformed the “I,” setting his tailback deep, with eyes up and hands on his knees, far enough behind center to get a running start into the line of scrimmage.

“If we’re going to run the daylight out of the football, the tailback should see the defense as the QB sees it,” McKay once said.

A few writers thought the “I” stood for idiotic when McKay’s 1960 team went 4-6, but USC was only laying foundation.

What followed was a procession of power football that spilled well into the 1970s.

McKay was cocksure, fiercely competitive and more than willing to run the ball down your throat until you gave up.

It happened often.

McKay gave USC football the attitude UCLA and Notre Dame fans came to hate, but grudgingly admire.

McKay turned USC into a power to be feared nationally.

He embraced competition like one would a loved one, breathing life into rivalries against the Bruins and Irish.

He made USC feel it had an inalienable right to appear in every Rose Bowl.

McKay made other coaches, notably Alabama’s Bryant, change the way they approached the game and how they recruited it.

In a time of civil discord, McKay wasn’t afraid to play Jimmy Jones at quarterback because he was black.

McKay turned USC into Tailback U, created Student Body Left and Right.

McKay was to the college game in the 1960s what Green Bay Coach Vince Lombardi was to the pros.

McKay is the face on the swagger USC longs to recapture. His style and confidence attracted good players, and then it became an avalanche.

His 1972 national championship team, an abundance of riches that included Lynn Swann, Richard Wood, Anthony Davis, Sam Cunningham and Charles Young, is considered in many quarters the best college football team ever.

The shame is that McKay did not remain in the college game longer.

He was only 52 when he left USC to coach the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL.

The job secured McKay’s financial future, yet the pounding he took at the professional level cut into his legacy.

One can only imagine--surely USC fans dream--what might have been had McKay coached at USC into his late 60s.

Body of work?

You have to measure McKay differently than you measure icons such as Bryant or Paterno.

In his 16 years, McKay had a won-loss record of 127-40-8. His winning percentage of .749 is better than those of Parseghian, Pop Warner, John Heisman and Frank Broyles.

McKay did not put in enough years to measure up to behemoths such as Bryant, Penn State’s Paterno and Florida State’s Bobby Bowden, who have used longevity to fortify their legends.

But McKay belongs in the pantheon of superstars.

His collegiate record is comparable to the great Knute Rockne, who won 105 games in 13 years at Notre Dame.

You can easily utter McKay’s name in the same sentence with Oklahoma’s Bud Wilkinson, who won 145 games in 17 years.

McKay has departed, never to be forgotten nor replaced.

Student Body Left . . . has gone.



Obituary: John McKay, who led USC to four national football championships, died of kidney failure Sunday in Tampa, Fla. He was 77. A1