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Tampa Bay Buccaneers first coach, John McKay, second to join team's Ring of Honor

Rich McKay talks about his father and second Ring of Honor inductee John McKay, who had a 44-88-1 coaching mark.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Rich McKay talks about his father and second Ring of Honor inductee John McKay, who had a 44-88-1 coaching mark.

TAMPA — For a region that had longed for pro football, Tampa Bay didn't know what it was in for when the Buccaneers first strapped it on in 1976.

Neither did the team's first coach, John McKay.

Twenty-six consecutive losses later, McKay had drawn the ire of a fan base that got much less than it bargained for, with fans at Tampa Stadium shouting, among other things, "Throw McKay in the bay!"

For such reasons, the Bucs' announcement Wednesday of plans to enshrine the late McKay in the club's Ring of Honor was particularly rich in satisfaction for his family and the organization. As history would have it, the man under whom the franchise suffered through some of its darkest days would later lead it to some of its highest achievements.

"I think what he would be most proud of is that in a community where it was a struggle those first few years, and (where) he was, to a certain extent, vilified, he was able to get it turned," said McKay's son, Rich, a former Bucs general manager and current president of the Falcons.

Rich McKay made his first appearance at the Bucs' facility after an unceremonious exit in 2004, attending a news conference featuring Bucs' Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon and former McKay assistant Wayne Fontes, among others. John McKay's daughter, Terri Florio, also attended. John McKay will be honored during the Dec. 5 game against the Falcons, enabling Rich McKay to participate in the ceremony. The Bucs will wear their orange throwback uniforms that day.

"There were plenty of times where he could have walked away and said, 'You know, this is a little harder than I thought' " Rich McKay, 51, said. "I think he would take great pride in the fact that he did finish the task."

John McKay did so by leading the Bucs to three playoff appearances in four seasons between 1979 and 1982, including a berth in the 1979 NFC Championship Game. But Wednesday, those who knew him best recalled more than his wins and losses.

Some remembered his stubbornness, for which McKay was known nearly as much as his witty, deadpan comments.

"I remember he came in and he said, 'I'm going to build it with young (players), and I'm going to build it with a 3-4 defense,' " Selmon said. "The old school in the National Football League said: 'That can't happen. You can't run a 3-4 defense in the National Football League.' Didn't change his mind. He stuck with it. We built a 3-4 defense and ended up playing it pretty well. The next year, a whole lot of other teams were running the same defense."

Rich McKay can't forget what an intense competitor his father was despite the happy-go-lucky public persona. Just the thought of losing was nerve-racking. That much was clear to Rich and his siblings while their father was the highly successful Southern Cal coach before joining the Bucs.

"I remember many times sitting in the (Los Angeles) Coliseum," Rich McKay said. "You thought he was really calm. He was nervous, and he'd look at us, and we were scared to death. Then he'd go out and put on this persona like it was no big deal. He was able to control his emotions. But I saw it. He was definitely nervous about it because he was a fierce competitor."

Said Florio: "I didn't even remember he's been dead nine years. He was such a powerful personality it's like he's right here next to me."

Once enshrined in the ring, her father will never be forgotten.

"John's legacy will forever be felt in Tampa," Bucs co-chairman Bryan Glazer said. "He led this franchise from the beginning and, along with Lee Roy Selmon, set the standard for what it means to be a Buccaneer."

ROSTER MOVE: The Bucs signed punter Brent Bowden, a sixth-round draft pick out of Virginia Tech, to a four-year contract. To make room, receiver Mark Bradley was released.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers first coach, John McKay, second to join team's Ring of Honor 06/16/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 17, 2010 7:25am]
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