The Winningest Coach in Football History has Stepped Down

“I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” said Summerville High School (South Carolina) football coach John McKissick, who has more victories than any coach on any level of American football, thus announced his retirement this week.

He had been mulling over his decision to retire for quite some time. After 63 years, 621 victories and 10 state championships with the Summerville Green Wave he finally felt like it was time to call it quits.

McKissick, 88, arrived at Summerville in 1952 and never left. He has paced the sidelines in Summerville for 63 seasons and in 2012 became the first coach in the history of the game to surpass the 600-win mark. McKissick’s record stands today at 620-156-13 with 10 state championships, the most recent in 1998, and notched a state-record 41-game winning streak from 1978-80. Former Carroll College (Mont.) and Saint John’s (Minn.) head coach John Gagliardi holds college football’s all-time wins mark at a distant 489.

McKissick - sideline photo3

“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 addressed a small gathering of local media and officials earlier this week to make the announcement.

His career, although undeniably successful, has not been without its quirks.

“I thought you had to be innovative,” McKissick told ESPN The Magazine during a 2012 profile. “We were fixing to play a team from Jasper County with a great middle linebacker who just seemed to make every tackle. So I put two QBs under center and two halfbacks behind each of them and had both quarterbacks spin out after the snap. That middle linebacker, he just stood there flat-footed, dumbfounded, didn’t know which way to go, and we took it 70 yards for a touchdown. Officials called it back. Said it was against the rules. I didn’t know the rule. I still don’t know the rule. That was the last time I tried a gimmick.”

A former World War II paratrooper, McKissick was named the NFL’s Don Shula High School Coach of the Year in 2012 and last year became an inaugural member of the South Carolina Football Association Hall of Fame. A native of Kingstree, S.C., McKissick played at Brevard College and Presbyterian before jumping into coaching at Summerville.

“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.

McKissick - sideline

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier said: “We’re going to miss him, but we certainly understand when the time’s right, as he feels it is.”

He never stopped learning the game though. The 88 year old head coach attended a coaches’ clinic not long ago where Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was speaking. Swinney watched as the elderly McKissick sat in the front row and then proceeded to take 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.

During McKissick’s tenure, 12 U.S. presidents have served office and seven of his players have gone on to NFL careers.

With excerpts from the Charleston Post And Courier, Football Scoop, ESPN, ABC News and USA Today.


Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.