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John Underwood
August 23, 1976
This is what John McKay—coach of the NFL's new Tampa Bay team after 16 years of wine and Rose Bowls at USC—says when asked to compare pro football to the college game. Witty, this McKay, and already a winner
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August 23, 1976

A Three-hour Time Difference

This is what John McKay—coach of the NFL's new Tampa Bay team after 16 years of wine and Rose Bowls at USC—says when asked to compare pro football to the college game. Witty, this McKay, and already a winner

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?"They say you can't win with an expansion team. Who is they? Nobody knows. They say you can't win more than three games your first year. I say you can. I'm a pro coach now, people will have to believe me. I think in three years we can be challengers. Mr. Hugh Culverhouse [the Tampa owner] told me the only thing he expected was to beat the time it took the Steelers to win their first championship. The Steelers did it in 41 years. We will beat that record."

?"I don't know what this pro football mystique is. I've gone to the pro camps. They throw the ball, they catch the ball. Many of them are ex-USC players. I'm not amazed at what they do."

?"I've watched the pros play. They run traps, they pitch the ball, they sweep. What else is there? One of the big plays in pro football is the off-tackle play to the split-end side. Everybody runs it. Pittsburgh runs it. They ran it against us in the 1975 College All-Star game. I said, 'I'll be damned, they're running Franco Harris off tackle.' If I had Franco Harris, I'd do the same. That same play was in everybody's playbook 25 years ago."

?" Lou Saban coached in the pros, then figured he'd retire to a college job and coast. At Maryland, he went 4-6. After that, he went back to the pros."

?"They say, 'You can't do this or that in the pros.' Why not? 'Well, you just can't.' They used to say you couldn't play a zone pass defense. Now everybody plays a zone. We were playing zone at Oregon in 1950. Don Shula put in the so-called 53 defense at Miami—a very smart move. Well, Miami's 53 was the old Oklahoma defense."

Despite the tiresome comparisons to his previous employment, McKay obviously is enjoying himself. "Super owner," he says. "Fine organization. A great way to go into your 50s." The professional accessories alone are enough to make McKay, 53, feel like the newly minted millionaire he is supposed to be (his reported contract terms: 5 years, $2 million). His new home on Tampa Bay is only a three-bedroom, as compared to the six-bedroom he had in suburban Los Angeles, but he has to admit that the previous owner knew how to put a roof over a head. Gold-leaf bathroom spigots, for example. The bay waters glisten through the sliding glass doors. There is a boat dock, and also a sun deck where a fellow could lie around and watch the water-skiers glide by. Sometimes the skier is Richie McKay, 17, the last of the four McKay children home on a regular shift, who, by his own admission, is a future great quarterback.

McKay jokes that his wife Corky is having a hard time keeping her wants quiet around Culverhouse, because every time she expresses a need for something, it winds up at the front door. McKay says, however, that the IRS will be surprised when they audit him one day and find out how little he is really making—scarcely more than the $52,000 a year he got at USC. He has no stock in the club, but there are some "deferred payments" that will help later on.

The amenities aside, a lot of things McKay was warned would happen to him in the pros have not happened—yet. For example, he has not found the attitude of the "old pros" unbearable.

"It's the same anywhere. There's always a few who won't play as well as you think they should, or work as hard. We're going to treat them all like men. Some people will take advantage of this, being children. They will find I can be as mean as the next guy. We had some guys show up late for camp. When you're making $60,000 a year, I suppose you shouldn't have to come in too early.

"You don't need experience to get in shape. You don't have to play together 40 years to be enthusiastic, to be aggressive. Against the Rams in our first game, which we lost 26-3, we were neither. We will be from now on. The shortcomings of an expansion team are not knowing what the guy next to you will do, and not knowing if you have enough quality players to make the difference. But that's a coaching job. I tell our players, 'Don't rate the team. Just do your job.' I heard several comments before the Rams game that made me think some players were rating the team. They didn't think we could win. Our job is to convince them of our ability so that they can function positively as a whole. I don't care how good you are; if you don't think the coach is right, you don't have a chance."

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