Before the victory over the Falcons, McKay assured a listener that what he had remembered seeing at USC was what he was going to eventually see at Tampa.
"I'm not going to change," he said. "I think you'll find we'll run and pass more from the I formation than other teams will. We'll have our flea-flicker, our pitch play. We'll overshift, come back to the weak side, let the wingback run the ball some. There's no rule against having three backs run the ball instead of two. I think you'll find our quarterbacks will roll out more. Throw more sprint-out passes, maybe run 10 or 15% of the time. We didn't use the option play that much at USC, and I don't see the need of it here except as a surprise element. Option plays get the quarterback tackled. In college, you have more quarterbacks to play with.
"But I'll be damned if a running back can't carry the ball more. Jimmy Brown complained about running so much in Cleveland, and all it did was make him a million dollars. O. J. Simpson wasn't warmed up until he'd carried 15 times, even at USC. We ran our tailbacks 35 times a game at USC and alternated the fullbacks. The fullbacks block and take the greater beating. I don't think it'd be asking too much to have our tailback carry 25 or 26 times a game."
Before the drafts, McKay had said an expansion team "better have a quarterback who can scramble," because there were no guarantees in the painstaking process of developing an offensive line. In Spurrier, the 1966 Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Florida, who played spectator for the San Francisco 49ers during five of his nine pro seasons, he does not have a scrambling quarterback. Far from it. And subsequent attempts to deal for others who might qualify—notably his 1974 starting USC quarterback, Pat Haden, now with the Rams, and, most recently, Terry Hanratty, whom the Steelers put on waivers but then withdrew—have come up dry.
He has, nonetheless, given the job to Spurrier, an immense favorite in the state. "I saw him pass for 320 yards with the 49ers one day on TV," McKay says. "If I didn't think he could do it, I wouldn't have hired him. I do think he's the type who loses interest when he sits on the bench. I told Spurrier he wouldn't be on the bench. I think we have him interested." Spurrier surprised McKay with his effective scrambling in the win over Atlanta. Facing a strong rush, Spurrier dodged potential sackers with some stumbling sprintouts as he completed 11 of 19 passes for 147 yards, and also ran in for a touchdown.
McKay also drafted a number of big college offensive linemen after making Defensive End Leroy Selmon of Oklahoma his No. 1 pick. In the expansion draft, he picked up a number of good receivers, including son Johnny, Bob Moore from Oakland and Barry Smith from Green Bay. Moreover, McKay's college draft may have produced the sleeper of 1976: Quarterback Parnell (Paydirt) Dickinson of Mississippi Valley State, a seventh-round selection who has excited the Bucs with his derring-do and live arm.
Spurrier has found McKay a kindred spirit. "Most NFL coaches say, if you don't let them score, you won't get beat,' " Spurrier says. "That's defensive. Coach McKay says, if we have the ball, they can't score.' That's offensive. I like that." Wide Receiver Lee McGriff, a former Cowboy prospect, says there is "a totally different atmosphere" at the Tampa camp. "I hadn't even smiled once by this time in Dallas," he says. "With Coach McKay, we're having fun."
It is not likely that everyone who crosses McKay's bow will find him fun, of course. That intense, enormous wit that charms can also char, and when McKay is waspish, as is his tendency at times, he can raise welts. His staffs have always had what an assistant once characterized as "a healthy, affectionate fear" of McKay, and though he consistently delights the press with his one-liners, he is wary of those who send back bad vibrations. When asked by one Tampa-area writer how long his contract called for, McKay replied, "Probably longer than yours."
It is true, too, that McKay's departure caused some bitterness at USC and probably resulted in his recommendations for a successor being ignored. "You can't blame the USC people," says one prominent alumnus. "All John did was give them four national championships, eight Rose Bowl games, two Heisman Trophy winners and so much money in the bank they have trouble hiding it."
McKay says he did not take the Tampa job for the money, that it was the change he wanted, coming as it did when his children were mostly grown, his fields mostly conquered. But privately he admits to a growing dissatisfaction at USC. The perpetual shenanigans of the NCAA, its incessant messing around with college football, distresses him. And despite his legions of " Hollywood friends," he never got the kind of financial help he needed to make sure his later ride in life would be comfortable. The idea of finishing his career as an athletic director bored him, and his tries at the stock market "made a couple of stockbrokers rich while I lost my shirt."