McKissick’s winning lessons

Summerville coach John McKissick waits for the game to start against Ashley Ridge Friday, Oct. 26, 2012 at Ashley Ridge High School in Summerville. Paul Zoeller/Special to the Post and Courier

What do Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, Bear Bryant and Bobby Bowden have in common?

Among other things, none coached as many winning football games as John McKissick.

Then again, neither has anybody else.

The amazingly durable Mr. McKissick made national sports news — again — at age 86 Friday night by recording his 600th coaching victory as his Green Wave beat Ashley Ridge, 37-21.

But Coach McKissick hasn’t just taught his players how to win at a remarkable rate since becoming Summerville High School’s head football coach during Dwight Eisenhower’s first presidential campaign. He has taught them how to lose with grace — and how to turn today’s defeat into tomorrow’s triumph.

If you coached for more than six decades, you’d lose at least a few, too. That includes this season, with the Green Wave a mere 7-4.

So Coach McKissick doesn’t just have those record (for high school, college or pro football) 600 victories. He has 147 losses — and 13 ties.

And his guiding philosophy — win, lose or tie, in or out of the sports arena — was never on more admirable display than immediately after the final game of Summerville’s 2005 season.

The Green Wave rolled to a 26-7 halftime advantage over Gaffney in the Division I-AAAA state title game at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia. Lots of folks in green and gold were already celebrating what they thought would soon be Coach McKissick’s 11th state championship.

Then Gaffney roared back, hitting a touchdown pass with 21 seconds left to deal Summerville a heartbreaking 33-32 defeat. Coach McKissick called it “one of the toughest” losses he had ever experienced.

Yet moments after the clock ran out, the coach also was characteristically looking not backward at how his team blew that big lead, but forward to the next challenge.

As he told our reporter: “I thought we had a shot to win it, but we didn’t. You can’t get down on them. We just have to get in there and regroup.”

Such life lessons have abounded for Coach McKissick’s players through the decades.

Not all of those players were on the coach’s 10 state-title teams, though many were. Not all went on to play football in college, though many did, or in the pros, though some did.

But they all belong to a special group that former (1974-76) Summerville quarterback Bo Blanton calls “a fraternity.”

And they all knew John McKissick wasn’t just their coach.

He was their teacher.

Mr. Blanton, the holder for Clemson’s star kicker Obed Ariri, has served on the Dorchester District 2 School Board for 16 years. So he knows something about not just sports, but education. He recalls this lasting lesson from Coach McKissick:

“He really cared about you on the field, but was just as interested in what you did off the field. He taught us to give back to the community.”

So congratulations to Coach McKissick on No. 600.

And congratulations to his players, across the generations, for reflecting so well on their famous coach — both on and off the field.