If one of the measures of greatness is sheer numbers, then Summerville (South Carolina) High School football coach John McKissick clearly has the corner on that market.
McKissick, who will turn 85 on September 25, holds the distinction of being both the nation’s winningest high school football coach and the nation’s current longest-serving high school football coach.
According to the NFHS’ National High School Sports Record Book, McKissick leads the nation with a 575-135-13 career coaching record entering the fall 2011 season.
That gives him a sizable 79-game margin over John Curtis of River Ridge (Louisiana) John Curtis High School on the all-time victory list.
In addition, since the fall of 1952, McKissick has been head coach at Summerville, the only school he’s ever coached. As such, and astoundingly, McKissick is about to enter his 60th season at the helm of the Green Wave.
To put that into historical perspective, when McKissick coached his first game, America was still actively engaged in the Korean War, “I Love Lucy” was the top-rated show on television, and Republican Dwight Eisenhower was two months away from defeating Democrat Adlai Stevenson in the United States presidential election. And, that was just his first term in office.
“It’s been great,” McKissick said. “I never could have found a better place to live and to coach. The fans are great and I have great support from my superintendent and principal. I’ve been blessed in that I’ve experienced only two losing seasons out of 59.
“Kids are basically the same now as in the 1950s, only not quite as tough as back then. Many worked on farms then and now we have to be much more careful working them in the severe heat, giving many more water breaks, etc.”
McKissick has coached at Summerville so long that he coached all three of his grandsons ‑ Joe and Richard Call, and Donny McElveen.
“It was most gratifying and humbling to coach our three grandsons,” McKissick said. “They were treated the same as all the other players, and at school they called me ‘Coach’ instead of ‘Granddad.’ They have grown into three fine young men.
“Joe got a full football scholarship to The Citadel and graduated from there. He is now my offensive coordinator for the SHS football team and teaches physical education and weight training. Richard graduated from Presbyterian College and earned his master’s degree at Clemson University. They’re both married now with children and have good jobs. Donny is a redshirt sophomore on the Clemson football team.”
In an amazing “iron man” feat that would put Cal Ripkin Jr. to shame, McKissick has not missed coaching a single game in his career. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment, however, has been coaching Summerville to 10 South Carolina High School League state titles.
“Of course, the 10 state championships have been the highlight of my career, especially the first one in 1955,” McKissick said. “Another one was breaking the national record with 406 wins in 1993 and then reaching the 500-game plateau. Yet another great honor occurred the night they named our complex ‘John McKissick Field’ and the street that runs by the stadium ‘John McKissick Way.’”
In recognition of his many amazing accomplishments, McKissick was inducted into the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame, the South Carolina Athletic Coaches Hall of Fame, and the NFHS’ National High School Hall of Fame.
“I was very honored to be inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame,” McKissick said. “Joe and Richard took turns attending conventions with my wife and me, and Joe attended that one with us.”
With summer winding down and the 2011 football season looming on the horizon, McKissick incorporates considerable “coach-speak” as he assesses his 60th Green Wave team.
“Our team this year doesn’t have the speed as in the past; we do have a few good running backs, a third-year quarterback and good receivers,” McKissick said. “We’ll be throwing more action passes than downfield passes. On defense, we have some good secondary people and good linebackers, but we need a lot of work on the defensive line. We have three returning players on defense and four on offense.”
Despite doing double duty as both head football coach and athletic director and having worked twice as long as most people, McKissick still has no plans to retire.
“I’ve done it [held both positions] so many years that I just stick to my routine,” McKissick said. “I have a great secretary who helps with all the paperwork. The high school has grown tremendously through the years, but we’ve had no problem moving on with the growth.
“I have not announced my retirement ‑ I take it one year at the time. I have great assistant coaches and administrative support, I’m blessed with good health, and I get great support at home from my wife. I still love my job as much as ever.”