SUMMERVILLE — Saying “I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” Summerville High School coach John McKissick, who has more victories than any coach on any level of football, announced his retirement Tuesday morning.
McKissick made the announcement after meeting with Dorchester District 2 officials. He told The Post and Courier on Sunday that he was considering retiring after 63 years, 621 victories and 10 state championships with the Green Wave.
The National Federation of State High School Associations says McKissick’s victories are the most ever.
“My age is catching up with me,” said McKissick, who turns 89 in September. “That’s a long life and it has been a long time coaching football. A lot of people have asked me if I’m sure that this is what I want to do. I think I’m sure. I know it’s time. I haven’t been forced to do anything. I was told I could stay as long as I wanted to.”
McKissick was emotional as he addressed a small gathering of local media and district personnel.
“I’ve had great support from everybody, my wife and children,” he said. “It’s hard to think anything could be better than my life here.
“This is a hard time for me, but I have had a great life here in Summerville. All of the young athletes that I have coached, I don’t think that anyone has had a better career that I’ve had as far as enjoying my job and living in a place like Summerville.”
Reaction was swift and heartfelt.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said, “We’re going to miss him, but we certainly understand when the time’s right, as he feels it is.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said he learned much from McKissick. Once, he gave a talk at a coaches’ clinic and saw the elderly McKissick in the front row, taking notes.
“His presence told me you can never stop improving, never stop striving to get better and never be satisfied with your past accomplishments,” Swinney said.
Summerville Mayor Bill Collins said McKissick put his town on the map.
“He has impacted the lives of thousands of young men,” Collins said. “He is truly a living legend.”
Former Stratford coach Ray Stackley, a rival of McKissick’s for 29 years, called him “an icon across the United States.”
McKissick’s grandson, Summerville assistant coach Joe Call, was one of three grandsons to play for the coach.
“It’s a tough day, but it’s easier knowing that he was able to make the decision on his own,” Call said. “He’s at peace with the decision. It’s good knowing that there were no other outside factors that caused him to retire, that he was able to do it when he wanted to.”
Call said both McKissick and his wife of 63 years, Joan, are happy with the decision.
“It took them both to be at peace with it for this to happen.” he said. “She’s been such a big part of this, and they both decided it was time. I think for both of them, if they did not know Summerville football will continue like it always has, they would not be at peace with it.”
Word broke Sunday night that McKissick was pondering retirement, seriously this time.
“It’s real hard but I knew it was time,” said McKissick. “I feel good about what I have done in the last two hours. I feel good about everything. It’s emotional, but the worst thing anyone can do is to walk away bitter. There’s no way I’m bitter.”
Dorchester 2 superintendent Joe Pye says he and McKissick and discussed retirement each year for the last few years but admits it is hard to grasp that the day had finally come.
“I dreaded this day,” said Pye. “I had hoped I would gone before he was gone, but I understand his reasons for stepping down now. He has earned this opportunity. He’s a legend.
“He’s had a legacy with lots of people over 63 years, not just in Summerville but around this state and around the nation. The man is known everywhere. He’s very humble and I appreciate that he has kept the spotlight on Summerville High School.”
McKissick said he would support his grandson Call as the Green Wave’s next coach. Call played quarterback at Summerville and at The Citadel, and has been the Green Wave’s offensive coordinator since 2007.
“I’d say he’s ready,” McKissick said. “It won’t be left up to me, but if somebody asks me what I think, I would say yes. I’m not going to interfere in it, but if you asked me if I thought he could do the job, I would have to say yes. He has a lot more experience than I had when I started.”
Summerville principal Kenny Farrell anticipates an interim coach being named in the coming days. The school also will have a new athletic director.
“We will sit down with the leadership, and with coach, and do what’s best for the kids at Summerville High School,” Farrell said. “Our coaches have been working hard for weeks. Our kids are progressing and we need to sit together as a family and make the best decision for those kids. The season is five or six weeks away. We need to make sure we do what is right and what is best for everyone involved.”
Call said he and the Green Wave’s other coaches are eager to carry on what his grandfather built.
“He’s our coach, he’s everybody’s coach,” Call said. “He’s been the face of Summerville for 63 years, and that legacy will carry on. Everything he built in this program is going to continue. Everybody on our staff either played for him for has been here long enough to know that there’s only one way to do things, and that’s the way he taught us.”
McKissick joked that Summerville Mayor Collins and Pye have offered office space in their respective buildings so that McKissick will have a place to go when he wakes every morning.
“I need a place to go,” he said. “I’ll be around. I won’t interfere or be in the way, but I will be available. I couldn’t stay away from it completely.”
And, as he often did, the coach had one parting shot that drew laughter from the assembled media.
“I have some lots out there in the cemetery so I guess I’ll be around even after I’m gone,” he joked.
Jeff Hartsell contributed to this article.