COLUMBIA – When Tony Elliott played football at James Island High School there was one game he circled on the schedule every year — the game against Summerville.
Elliott, who played wide receiver for the Trojans in the early 1990s, said he always wanted to play his best against the Green Wave.
Elliott, a co-offensive coordinator for Clemson, wanted to impress Summerville head coach John McKissick. McKissick died Thursday at his Summerville home. He was 93.
On Saturday, the tensions of the annual rivalry between Clemson and South Carolina melted away for a few moments as USC officials held a moment of silence to honor McKissick before the kickoff.
“Even though I played for the Trojans, I was trying to show coach McKissick that I would have been worthy to play for him,” Elliott said after Clemson’s 38-3 win over South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium. “He was the standard when you played down in the Lowcountry.”
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney each praised McKissick during their postgame press conferences. The legendary coach has more wins – 621 – than any football coach at any level.
“He was nothing but first-class to me,” Muschamp said. “He actually called me early in the year and told me not to listen to any of y'all (media). I really appreciated the short time that I was around him. He's the greatest coach of all time. You are what your record is. He's won more games than anybody.”
Swinney remembers his first speech to the state’s high school coaches clinic and seeing McKissick in the front row taking notes.
“I was like, ‘what is this man going to learn from me?’” Swinney said. “That left a such a lasting impression on me. Here he was 80-something years old and still passionate and eager to learn and grow and that’s why he had such an unbelievable career and such a fruitful life.”
McKissick made a point to help Elliott when he was coaching at South Carolina State and Furman.
“He never treated me any different. He welcomed me with open arms,” Elliott said. “I could always tell he was genuinely proud of me and that gave me encouragement. You are talking about coach McKissick, who probably already had like 500 wins and he’s humble enough to treat a young man like myself that was at S.C. State with the grace and dignity that he did. That speaks volumes for the kind of person he was.”
Elliott and Joe Call, McKissick’s grandson and current head coach at Summerville, remain close friends to this day.
“My heart goes out to his family, but what I life,” Elliott said. “I’m blessed to have had a relationship with him to be able to call him my friend and a mentor. We’re going to miss him and I told Joe that I know I’m going to see him again. I thank him for what he’s meant to football and the state of South Carolina and gives us all confidence to go forward to carry on his legacy.”
Swinney said it seemed fitting that McKissick passed away on Thanksgiving Day.
“I know there are thousands of people that are thankful they had coach McKissick in their lives, so that’s fitting,” Swinney said. “I had the opportunity to get to know coach McKissick over the last 17 years. What a class man, one of the most iconic human beings you could meet. Just a special, special person. We’re going to miss him. The Good Lord felt like it was time to call him home.”