John McKay is losing and he knows a lot of people are just loving it. "Sportswriters, some of them, have taken great delight in jumping on me," he notices.
"Partly because of my past successes, partly because of the erroneous reports on how much money I'm making. And, oh yes, other NFL coaches. They've said, like, "Well, he's from the colleges and now he's in the big time and let's see how he does."
How he's doing is 0 and 22.
Only a handful of football coaches won more often than John McKay at the University of Southern California. While winning four national championships in 15 seasons - Frank Leahy and Bear Bryant also won four; no one else has - McKay produced two Heisman Trophy winners, O. J. Simpson and Mike Garrett, and sent Ara Parseghian into color commentary.
And now John McKay is is 0 and 22.
"I had one of the best football jobs in the country at SC. I made as much money as anybody in football. My salary, my TV show, speeches, clinics. I wasn't looking for a job."
The Tampa Bay Buccaneesr were looking for a coach, though, and they went for the one they thought was the best: John McKay. If you believe some of the things you read in the papers, McKay was given a $2 million deal. "Not even close," he says. Well, let's say Tampa Bay stole him for a mere million. Cheap at the price. Genius comes high.
And now the genius is 0 and 22 and sportswriters in the North call their buddies in Florida and ask for the funny stuff about the Bucs. It's as if these Bucs are football's version of the Marv Throneberry Mets. Do these Bucs, the writers want to know, do silly things to lose games? Maybe they have a guy like the Mets' old catcher. ChooChoo Coleman, who when asked his wife's name, said, "Mrs. Coleman."
Well, McKay isn't laughing. Oh, 22 McKay, ever a wit, can still say funny things. "We have receivers who can run like hell," he said, "but they can't get open like hell." And then he smiled, for about one-millionth of a second.
For every ounce of John McKay that is a comedian, there is a hundred pounds of ruthless, proud, determined football coach.
McKay thinks he'll do with the Bucs what he did at Southern Cal. He'll tell you that the Dallas Cowboys in their first year as an expansion team did not win a game. SO the Bucs were 0-11 last season and they're U.S. going into Sunday's game here with the New York Giants - so what?Mckay took this job only when the owners assured him he could do it his way.
Slowly and painfully.
"We checked on how Dallas did it," he said. "They lived by the draft and they died by it. Same thing with Cincinnati. We weren't going to be like those old Mets. They were all over-the-hill guys. We have a young team. We're saying that in five years we'll be championship caliber. We didn't want to take guys 30 years old because, when we get to where we're supposed to be good, they'd be gone.
"We didn't want to be a New Orleans, who tried to do it with veteran players. The Paul Hornungs, the Jim Taylors. They won some games. But now, 12 years later, they're a 26 and they're fired 13 coaches."
So McKay is going slowly, refusing to trade away the team's top two draft choices of any year. The oldest player on the team is 28, and the veteran in experience has played five NFL seasons. The starting line up averages 24 years per man in the NFL.
The defense has been sensational, TOm Landry and Bug Grant have said the Tampa Bay defense can play with anyone. But because of the injuries to its two best quarterbacks and because four interior linemen are new to their jobs this year, Tampa's offense can play with no one. In eight games, Tampa has five touchdowns.
"Our quarterback now Jeb Blount will be playing his third game ever in the NFL." McKay said."Not many teams is weak smile here can win with a quarterback playing his third game ever."
And, yes, funny things have happened to the Bucs. Not ha-ha funny, but oh-my-gawd funny.
"Against the Rams last week, on the first series, they kicked and our punt returner signaled a fair catch - on the four-yard line. That's a no-no of the first order. Then we punt one 27 yards and they make one first down, kick a field goal and it's 3-0.
"They get the ball again. It's third and 13 and Pat Haden is crambling. He throws one and we've got the man covered. But our man falls down. A touchdown.Now they've made three first downs - thiree! - and they're ahead 10-0.
"That's tough for us."
Understatment there, Tampa has scored as many as 10 points only twice this season, losing to San Francisco 20-10, and expansion brother Seattle. 30-20.
McKay is happy with his team's defense. "We've drafted for defense on four of our first six picks, the first two years, and three of them are starting for us. If you can't play defense you're not going to win - ever.
Speaking of never, Mckay said, "We need a win very badly. We're playing too tight. We're playing good teams. Dallas and Minnesota and Baltimore, as well as anybody in the league. But that stuff about being the worst team in the NFL makes it hard to get loose."Then McKay had a terrible thoughts, "The record's 0 and 29 and we're trying not to beat that."