‘Luckiest guy in world’ coached 63 seasons

Summerville coach John McKissick is carried after recording his 600th win on Friday, Oct. 26, 2012 at Ashley Ridge High School in Summerville. Paul Zoeller/Special to the Post and Courier

John McKissick coached Summerville High School kids who fought in the war. The Korean War.

Elvis Presley hadn’t recorded a single song when McKissick began coaching at Summerville in 1952, the year Bill Belichick was born.

Dean Smith was still a University of Kansas basketball player. Steve Spurrier was a second-grader.

Between state championships, McKissick saw the Beatles and moon landings come and go.

Some of his former football players went on to graduate from Summerville, start families, complete careers and die as old men.

True appreciation of John McKissick, the 88-year-old legendary leader who announced his retirement Tuesday after 63 seasons as Summerville head coach, is best done in context. The career scope ranges from pre-rock ‘n’ roll to recently completed spring practices.

The magnitude is 5,300 players strong. That covers 621 victories, the most at any level of football. McKissick won 10 state championships.

“I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” he said Tuesday.

So many games, so many memories. And usually a green windbreaker for the ex-claims adjuster who trained as an 82nd Airborne paratrooper before settling in at Summerville after Harvey Kirkland left to become the head coach at Newberry College.

Harry Truman was president in that autumn of 1952.

No, McKissick never met Truman.

But he met Truman’s predecessor.

“Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill were the guests of Bernard Baruch at the Hobcaw Barony plantation in Georgetown,” McKissick said. “I was only 12 or 13 but, through a friend, I got to meet all three of them. It was quite a thrill.”

Crossing paths with McKissick sticks with people, too.

Best-selling author Pat Conroy mentioned McKissick with a reference in “The Prince of Tides” meant to pay tribute to a local icon. That book is almost three decades old.

Just after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, famed Sports Illustrated writer Gary Smith used McKissick’s perspective on the night of a Summerville loss at Stratford High School to gauge the impact of horror on everyday America.

It wasn’t always easy. McKissick has spent many summer days in his DeBordieu Colony beach house but spent part of his childhood in a tiny Kingstree home with no electricity or running water.

Summerville got off to a 1-2 start in 2012 and McKissick was only half-joking when he said, “They say I’m too old. They say the old man needs to go.”

The Green Wave finished 7-5 in 2012, highlighted by a 37-21 victory at Ashley Ridge for McKissick’s 600th career win.

McKissick called timeout in the waning seconds of that game and huddled with his defense.

“I don’t want anybody to retaliate if anything happens out there,” he said. “You want to play next week, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir!” they all shouted.

Summerville roared to an 11-3 record in 2013.

McKissick has said that all the scrapbooks carefully maintained by Joan McKissick, his wife of 63 years, will someday make for a fine bonfire.

No chance.

The fire marshal wouldn’t approve of a blaze that might be seen as far away as Cincinnati, where A.J. Green, McKissick’s best player, is a Pro Bowl wide receiver for the Bengals.

Mrs. McKissick’s 4,000 scrapbook pages belong in a museum, next to things that were introduced to America during her husband’s Green Wave tenure.

You know, like the color TV.

McDonald’s hamburgers.

The Chevrolet Corvette.

Personal computers.

By the way, the Lakers won the NBA title in 1952. The Minneapolis Lakers.

Through it all, McKissick instilled discipline, changed with the times, held tight to a simple work ethic, adjusted to new generations and kept winning.

Too bad McKissick can’t take one last lap through a Summerville football schedule. It would have been fun to see how schools hosting the Green Wave went about honoring a man whose career touched the lives of Lowcountry football players for four generations.

But “early” retirement surely means a flood of good wishes.

Mrs. McKissick is going to need a forklift for the new scrapbook.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff