If the last name sounds familiar, it is because it is. The McKay name evokes tradition and success like few in Southern California. John McKay was the greatest coach in the history of USC's storied football program. His son, John (known as J.K.), was a star receiver for the Trojans' National Championship team in 1974. There was another McKay, however, and his path--Bishop Amat High to USC and success in Los Angeles based on name and talent --was interrupted.
Rich McKay was indeed a top quarterback at Bishop Amat High School in La Puente. He was good enough to compete for the starting job with Paul McDonald, who would go on to an All-American career leading SC's 1978 National Champions, before taking over as the Cleveland Browns' starter. But when McKay's senior season rolled around, something happened to disrupt what appeared to be his destiny. His father retired from USC to take over the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976. Rich followed his dad to Tampa and enrolled at Jesuit High School.<p>
J.K.'s path was already laid out--a stint in the pros followed by law school and a career working for Ed Roski (the real estate mogul trying to bring the NFL back to the Coliseum).
Rich would not attend SC as planned, choosing instead the Ivy League and law school, followed by employment as the Buccaneers' attorney. However, the fact that his father had been Tampa Bay's coach, combined with the knowledge and skills acquired over years of learning from the master, made him the logical choice to take over as the team's general manager. Today, he is considered one of the keenest minds in the National Football League. The Guru caught up with him in between the draft and training camp, and the conversation went from USC to Tampa Bay's recent transactions, the trends in college football, and the glory days of Bishop Amat.
The Buccaneers' recently picked up Keyshawn Johnson, USC's former All-American wide receiver, from the New York Jets. McKay was asked if Keyshawn's Trojan history was a factor in his getting picked by Tampa Bay.
"He was a great player at SC, and of course we scouted him," said McKay. "I like to see Trojans in the professional ranks, and it was easy to evaluate him at SC, where he was very productive, one of their all-time leading receivers. Mainly, though, we need his aggressive personality. Keyshawn brings to us what we thought we were missing. We have an expectation level for him on offense, where we have not been productive because we lack the kind of aggressive mindset that we do have on the defensive side of the ball. When he became available, it became a fit."
McKay was then asked about the current down state of Trojan football.
"I've known coach <Paul> Hackett for a long time," says McKay, "and I've seen his ability wherever he's been. I've seen the program struggle ever since the teams in the Pacific Northwest started taking players who traditionally go to SC. It still gets down to who gets the players, and Don James changed things when he built a powerhouse at Washington. When they got on a roll, they became dominant and it's been hard to get back to where they were before that."
What about the state he lives in now, Florida? California kids are going to Florida and SEC schools, and many say that it is because of the increased enthusiasm for football in that region.
"Florida is unique," is McKay's take. "The key is they keep players within the state. Florida State seems to have won that battle the last few years. It used to be that many good players would go out of state. In assessing the enthusiasm level of Florida football fans vs. California, there's no doubt that football comes number one in Florida. That's not true in California, but in terms of creating atmosphere, I remember the USC atmosphere to be the best around."
This comes from a guy who has seen his share of football at every level.<p>
"If the Pac-10 can get back to the success they've had," he continues, "then the enthusiasm will be just as tremendous as ever."
McKay is then asked to a take trip down Memory Lane. Bishop Amat was a great power in the 1960s and '70s. SC's All-American linebacker Adrian Young came out of the Lancers' program. Gary Marinovich, the brother of Marv and uncle of Todd, was their coach. Pat Haden was the nation's top high school quarterback in 1970, and his favorite receiver was his best friend, J.K. McKay. Haden's father was transferred by his company to Walnut Creek, but Haden did not want to go to Acalanes, Northgate or De La Salle, the school's of choice in that area. He wanted to stay at Bishop Amat. A solution was found. He would become 11-year old Rich's roommate at the McKay home.
That year, while Haden lit up the prep football world, the recruiters from Stanford, Notre Dame and Nebraska found that in order to get a sit-down with Pat, they had to trek to SC coach McKay's house, sit in his living room, and drink his coffee.
"Pat lived at the house," recalls Rich. "He was my roommate, and he and my brother were inseparable buddies who had experienced tremendous success together. I think they lost the <CIF> finals to Blair at the Coliseum, and there must have been 40 or 50,000 people in the stands. It was natural that Pat wouldn't move, and natural that he lived with us. The NCAA may have questioned it, I think Stanford made an issue of it, but Pat was a smart guy who made the decision on his own and nobody could dispute that. I think he did visit Notre Dame, and in fact his Mom wanted him to go there, because of the Catholic connection. Ara Parseghian was their coach, and it was an attractive option. Tom Osborne was Nebraska's top recruiter back then, Bob Devaney was still their coach. He came to the house.
"As for J.K., he caught 96 balls one year, then 108 the next at Bishop Amat. He was a fullback, but Gary Marinovich put in a passing scheme and made J.K. a receiver. I remember a game at Mt. SAC, in the first round of the play-offs, where opponents would triple-team J.K. They'd line up two guys at the line to try to stop him, and another in the backfield. He didn't catch any passes in the first half, but made 11 receptions in the second. It was a lot of fun, seeing my brother have that kind of success.
"I saw Adrian Young at SC, but not at Amat, because we lived near South Hills High and were not aware of Amat until the decision came to go there after moving a mile from the school."
The program was so competitive that John Sciarra had to sit and wait his turn to play.<p>
"John's a nice guy and a good friend," says McKay. "He transferred in his junior year, and played behind Haden. He also played defensive back and returned kicks and punts, he was a great athlete. I also remember him playing for the Eagles against my Dad."
This was after Sciarra finally got to play his senior year at Amat, after Haden's graduation. Naturally, John McKay came a-callin.g to try and get the kid to play at USC. Sciarra was a terrific baseball shortstop, and McKay tried to lure him with the promise of also playing for a National Championship team under Rod Dedeaux. Sciarra would have none of it, because he had had enough of playing behind Haden. He went to UCLA, where unseating the starter, Mark Harmon, was a lot easier. He capped his All-American career there with a 1976 Rose Bowl victory over Archie Griffin and Ohio State.
"I had a good career at Amat myself," Rich recalls. "McDonald was a year ahead of me, but my sophomore year he hurt his leg against St. Paul, and my junior year I alternated with him. We went to the play-offs. McDonald and Haden were better athletes than they were given credit for. They were both very good basketball players with similar work ethics, who were very intelligent. In the summer, Paul and I would throw three, four, five times a week, and that work ethic carried over to beyond those years."
Rich was asked about growing up around football, and how much of an advantage this was in grooming for his present position.
"It's a natural advantage," he says, "but my Dad was actually discouraging us, he didn’t want us to pursue careers in coaching because you have to move your family a lot. He wanted us to pursue another profession. Both J.K. and I went to law school, and I did in fact become a lawyer, working for the Buccaneers on player contracts. I've been around football as long as I can remember, and I just gravitated toward the job I hold now.
"I was aware of my Dad's presence when I was a kid, you were always John McKay's son, and since we almost never lost at SC, it was a good thing. But certainly when you lose 26 straight games in a row at Tampa, that was a big turnaround. The toughest thing of all was how much time my Dad spent on the road, he was always gone."
Rich has managed to establish stability for himself in Tampa Bay, where his father also lives, and considering his success so far, one can imagine that he may be there a long time.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism