Let’s try to put what legendary Summerville High coach John McKissick accomplished Friday night in perspective when his Green Waves beat Ashley Ridge.
McKissick earned career victory No. 600 in his 61st season coaching at Summerville. His career record stands at 600-148-13 with 10 state championships, and the thought of a football coach amassing so many wins is hard to believe.
That is more football victories than any person alive. J.T. Curtis of John Curtis Christian School in Louisiana reached the 500-win plateau last season, but he is still more than 80 wins away from reaching 600. In college, 86-year old John Gagliardi of St. John’s University has 487 wins in 64 years. Amos Alonzo Stagg coached 57 years and won 314 games. Don Shula holds the professional record with 328 wins.
In state history, long-time Woodruff coach Willie Varner is second on the list with 383 victories, Greenwood’s Pinky Babb finished with 346 and Bob Rankin of Marion has 313.
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According to the South Carolina High School League Record Book, five boys basketball coaches, five girls basketball coaches and two baseball coaches in state history can match his career win total even though they play far more games a year than the 11 guaranteed in football each season.
What keeps the recently turned 86-year old McKissick going? It’s simple, really.
“When you get a certain age, there isn’t much else you want to do,” McKissick said. “I like getting up and coming to work, so I guess I will keep doing that as long as I can do it and as long as they will have me.”
But did he ever really think he would stick around this long and does he see an end to this magical run?
“All I’ve ever thought about since I started coaching is to try and win that first game,” he said. “Then win the next and next and whatever it adds up to, that’s good. I’ve never looked ahead to anything. You have to have a purpose in life. But, sure, I think about retirement, but that’s about it.”
Hammond coach Erik Kimrey is 33-years old and just became what many people believe is the quickest coach in state history to win 100 games. Even though he reached 100 wins in nine seasons, he has no desire to attempt to reach 600.
“How do you put 600 wins in perspective?” Kimrey said. “It’s monumental. I think more important than his wins is to think of the young men he has coached and influenced during his career, which has to be thousands. I think most coaches would be thankful just to coach in 600 games much less win 600 games. It’s mind-boggling if you really think about it. In this business, you can’t compare yourself to anyone else, and he’s done something that is astronomical. It will be something very difficult for anyone to pass.”
McKissick grew up in Kingstree and graduated from Presbyterian College before spending one season coaching 6-man football (these wins are not included in his total) in Clarkton, N.C., before taking the Summerville job in 1952.
He’s been a pillar of the community that he often references as the Little Flowertown in the Pines. He kept his primary residence there until about two years ago when he and his wife Joan decided to make their home in the DeBordieu community near Georgetown. Even though he has athletics director duties at Summerville, he usually retreats to that home during the offseason. But he is around enough to attend his fair share of spring and other fall sporting events.
The football field at Summerville is named after him, and there is a 5-foot tall statue of him carved in stone outside the stadium.
The zeal to coach remains strong. In his 61 seasons coaching, he has suffered through two losing seasons — 1957 and 2001. Some wondered if McKissick would reach 600 wins this season after the Green Wave stumbled out of the gate with a 2-4 record. But they’ve won four in a row to ensure a winning record.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is impressed by what McKissick has accomplished.
“He’s a picture of health,” Spurrier said. “That’s the first thing you say about a guy that’s in his 80s now and still coaching. It’s sort of neat that he’s coached players’ sons and grandsons. He may be on great grandkids, I don’t know. But coach McKissick is a wonderful guy. He’s got a wonderful disposition, gets along with everybody. He’s a good coach, too.”
Joe Call, McKissick’s grandson, is his offensive coordinator.
Those that think the game has passed him would be surprised. His staff is comprised of many former players, so they know exactly what McKissick is looking for. He gives each assistant plenty of freedom to carry out his duties.
About the only way McKissick hasn’t changed with the times is he stays away from the computer. He lets the athletics secretary, Donna Crowe, and his assistant coaches handle that .
“I stay with the X’s and O’s,” McKissick said. “I’m coaching coaches more than players now. I go from group to group and monitor everything that is going on. All the other stuff I leave to other people.”
The one thing that hasn’t changed is McKissick’s outlook on discipline. It’s the same today as it was in the 1950s.
“I still don’t allow long hair and earrings,” McKissick said. “I’ve had kids transfer because of dreadlocks. I think most kids realize that playing football is a privilege. They want discipline. It’s up to us as coaches to provide it for them. That is something I have never wavered on.”
If anybody is thinking that McKissick might hang it up after reaching the 600-win milestone, think again. The Green Wave are young with a freshman quarterback and are expected to return nine starters on offense and defense next season. The future is bright, and if there is one additional thing McKissick would like to accomplish before he retires, it would be to add another state championship to the Summerville trophy case.
“I have all the accolades I need,” McKissick said. “I’d like to win another one for the kids.”