Rival coaches: McKissick was ‘standard-bearer’

Former Summerville head football coach John McKissick is carried off the field by his players after defeating Wando 34-17 for his 500th career victory on Friday, Sept. 12, 2003. (Mic Smith/Staff)

When Chuck Reedy took over as football coach at Goose Creek High School in 2002, he knew there were some Lowcountry programs he had to match to get the Gators where they wanted to go.

“It was Berkeley, Stratford and Summerville that we felt like we had to measure up against,” Reedy said Tuesday. “But Summerville and John McKissick, they were the standard-bearer.”

McKissick, 88, announced his retirement Tuesday morning after 63 years at Summerville High School, leaving with a record of 621-156-13, 10 state championships and countless lives touched.

It’s a career that Lowcountry coaches say cannot be matched, anywhere in any sport.

“I don’t think we’ll ever see anything like that again,” said Reedy, who himself retired earlier this year after 13 seasons at Goose Creek. “He got an early start at a place that he loved in Summerville. He had many opportunities to leave, but chose to stay, and that’s something you don’t see to often.”

Former Stratford coach Ray Stackley retired in 2014 after 29 years as the Knights’ coach. He was born in 1951 – one year before McKissick began his career at Summerville in 1952.

“I probably coached against him more than anybody, me and (former Berkeley coach) Gerald Moody,” Stackley said. “For 29 straight years, I coached against John. It’s going to be a tremendous loss in high school football across the state with him not involved.

“From the time I was a young coach starting at Stratford in 1985, he treated me with dignity and respect. We were fierce, fierce rivals, but we always respected each other. It’s a huge change for Summerville and that whole community; he’s a legend, an icon across the United States.”

Both Reedy and Stackley said they hope McKissick can enjoy his retirement. McKissick often said he would not know what to do if he was not coaching football.

“I’m happy for him and his wife (Joan) if this is what he wants to do,” Stackley said. “I hope he has many years of retirement and vacation and time with his family. If anybody deserves it, he does after 63 years of coaching at one school.”

Summerville player T.J. Hopkins, recently named The Post and Courier’s high school athlete of the year for 2014-15, played on McKissick’s final team, which went 8-5 last season.

“It was an honor to play for a legend like that,” said Hopkins, who will play baseball at South Carolina. “I’ll always remember playing football for him. It didn’t matter how old he was, if he was out there coaching he was engaged and trying to put the best team out there to win. He always wanted to win and was so competitive.”

Wando coach Jimmy Noonan, 45, watched his dad Bill coach his Sumter teams against McKissick’s Summerville squads. Then Noonan played for Sumter against Summerville, and finally coached against McKissick at Spring Valley and Wando.

“One heck of a career,” Noonan said. “He got started at an early age in a very supportive town in Summerville. It was the right place and the right coach. The town wanted a good team as much as Coach McKissick did, and that’s what it takes. He’s had a great supporting cast through the years in assistant coaches, and then the players followed.”

Fort Dorchester coach Steve LaPrad said McKissick hired him in 1978 to coach Summerville’s wrestling and junior varsity football teams.

“He never got away from his beliefs that he thought made people successful,” LaPrad said. “He had his morals and philosophies from behavior to dress codes, and he never got away from that. Even with the changing of the times and the kids, he always stayed true to what he thought was right.”

LaPrad said McKissick remained a fierce competitor right to the end.

“I don’t think he’s ever lost that,” LaPrad said. “I know he said age had caught up with him, and it may have physically. But not mentally; he’s still as competitive now as the day he first coached.”

Timberland coach Art Craig was in his second year at tiny Cross High in Berkeley County when he met McKissick.

“I was walking into a meeting in Charleston and he stopped me and asked, ‘Are you Art Craig?’ I thought I was in trouble,” Craig said. “But he just wanted to tell me I was doing a good job and he was proud of me. That really impressed me.”

Craig said whenever he saw McKissick, the coach would ask about the hot dogs at the Handy Mart in Macedonia in Berkeley County.

“That’s why he was so beloved; despite all the hoopla, he was so approachable,” Craig said.

Craig has 178 victories in 17 years as a head coach, but can’t imagine duplicating McKissick’s career.

“I’d have to coach until I was 120,” he said. “No one in South Carolina is ever going to do that, not in this day and age. He is it, the alpha, the omega, the everything in football in our state.”