AS JOHN MCKISSICK was announcing his retirement to a small gathering of reporters in Summerville on Tuesday morning, his wife of 63 years was at a doctor’s appointment in North Charleston.
They said hello at the house later that day and then John headed to North Charleston for a doctor’s appointment of his own.
“At our age, one or the other of us is always at the doctor,” Joan McKissick said.
And that as much as anything is the reason the winningest coaching career in the history of football ended Tuesday. Spring chickens don’t win 621 games. Ten state titles, which is also a line on McKissick’s resume, can be done in the relative blink of an eye, but winning a couple hundred more games than Joe Paterno takes some time and wears some of the tread off your tires.
“We hadn’t talked about retirement at all until recently,” Joan McKissick said. “He had never even considered retiring.”
John McKissick is 88 years old. He’ll be 89 in September, and he felt like it during spring practice this year.
“He has slowed down a little bit,” his wife said. “He can tell a big difference in his energy level.”
So McKissick decided this week that 63 seasons as the head coach of the Green Wave were enough.
“I think my age finally caught up with me,” John McKissick said. “My wife and I agreed that it was probably time to step down. The district has been real good to me, the school, the town. I’ve had a good run.”
It’s been so much more than that, this six-decade career that began when Harry Truman was president and Otto Graham was quarterbacking the Cleveland Browns.
McKissick’s retirement prompted the state’s most high-profile football coaches to release statements.
“Coach McKissick is one of the nicest gentlemen I know,” South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier said. “He’s a smart coach and a good coach -- outstanding in everything he did. I’m going to certainly miss seeing him when I go by Summerville High School. I’ve made it a point every year to try to go by there during recruiting season and say hello to Coach McKissick.
“We’re going to miss him, but we certainly understand when the time’s right, as he feels it is, it’s time to go do something else, and he’ll be doing something else.”
Clemson’s Dabo Swinney recounted the story of an 80-year-old McKissick taking notes during a high school coaches clinic.
“I played and coached at the University of Alabama, a school whose history includes Bear Bryant,” Swinney said. “Coach McKissick won nearly twice as many games as Coach Bryant. That is almost impossible to comprehend. Each year I have had the privilege of spending some time with Coach McKissick and I have learned so much from him. I want him to know that we will all miss him on the sidelines, but understand that we will always appreciate what he has contributed.”
John McKissick will miss football this fall, he said. In fact, he was already starting to miss it by supper time Tuesday.
“I’m a little awed right now. I can’t quite take it all in,” his wife said. “It’s hard to believe he’s going to give it all up. He’s not looking forward to retirement, but he understands that it’s time.”
John McKissick might take a consulting role at the school or he might just do nothing.
“I guess I’ll find out what my wife has on her list,” he said.