The Greatest Football Coach You’ve Never Heard Of: Vernon “Skip” McCain

If you were told that a coach, in 16 years, lead his team to six undefeated seasons, including four in which they were unbeaten and untied. Also, that this same coach had an .816 winning percentage which is the 28th highest in college football history, higher than: ‘Bear’ Bryant, Woody Hayes and Joe Paterno, not only that but along with his sterling103-21-5 record, he was named Coach of the Year by the Pigskin Club of Washington in 1950. As if that wasn’t enough, he also coached basketball [with a 77-16 record], was athletic director and was an assistant mathematics professor. In four meetings with Eddie Robinson’s formidable Bayou Bengal Tigers, this coach’s teams won all four meetings, outscoring the Tigers 87-20! You’d likely think this coach would have to be a household name, right? 

The coach in question is Vernon E. “Skip” McCain and he led his teams to four Central Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles, without ever recording a single losing season in 16 years at Maryland State College, [now The University of Maryland Eastern Shore]. Additionally, despite the fact that the enrollment was never much over 1,000, during his coaching career, nine future AFL/NFL players were Eagles on his watch. Among them: Emerson Boozer, Roger Brown, Earl Christy, Darrell Glover, Sherman Plunkett, Art Shell and Charley Stukes. In fact, UMES still has the distinction of having more players play in a Super Bowl game than any other single university. In Super Bowl III, between the New York Jets and the Baltimore Colts (now the Indianapolis Colts), UMES was very much in evidence as five former Eagles student-athletes played: Earl Christy (1961-1964), Johnny Sample (1954-1957), Emerson Boozer (1962-1965), Charles Stukes (1963-1967), and James Duncan (1968-1971).   

Prior to Maryland State, McCain had been on the staff of coach Henry Arthur Kean Sr. at Tennessee A&I, [now Tennessee State]. While there they had 10–1 record, won the MAA championship, shut out six of eleven opponents, defeated West Virginia State in the Derby Bowl and Louisville Municipal, [now Simmons College] in the Vulcan Bowl. The Pittsburgh Courier recognized Tennessee A&I and Morgan State as the 1946 Black college national co-champions. That season they outscored all opponents by a total of 247 to 61 points.  

An exceptional athlete and student himself, he’d excelled himself in baseball, was an All-American quarterback at Langston University in 1930, even though he stood 5’5”. He graduated second in his class among math students at Langston. Also, as an undergraduate he was president of the dramatic club and president of the student YMCA at Langston. As a basketball coach he made history when took his 1950 basketball team to Hanover, N.H. to play Dartmouth. That game also made history; Maryland State became the first historically Black college team to play an Ivy League school. The Hawks lost 60-to-59, which one news account described as a “heart-breaking … thriller.” In 1948, as football coach leading, his underdog Hawks defeated the favored Albright College Lions 25-0. It was among post-World War II America’s earliest “interracial” college football games, as it was described in newspaper accounts of the day.  

I’d like to see the CIAA’s coach of the year award named the Vernon E. “Skip” McCain award. He embodied the coach as mentor as servant leader, all without cursing or yelling, he listened to his players and devoted himself to making them well-rounded men. Along with the many student-athletes whose lives he shaped, he helped launch the career of his assistant and fellow Hall of Fame coach, Earl C. “Tiger” Banks, who built Morgan State University’s football team into a juggernaut, he had a winning 74.6% whole head coach. Even though the UMES Eagles last suited up at the end of the 1979 season the legacy of Vernon E. “Skip” McCain is very much still viable and enduring.

One thought on “The Greatest Football Coach You’ve Never Heard Of: Vernon “Skip” McCain”

  1. former Denver Broncos star safety Bill Thompson also played at UMES, and LB Gerald Irons. maybe after coach McCain’s time. Charlie Stukes played QB at UMES. Bruce Springsteen’s E Street band sax player Clarence Clemmons also played football at UMES

    their later teams included Eagles DE Carl Hairston

    UMES seemed to be an impossibly small university to have so many great football players. As a Raiders and Art Shell fan this has always fascinated me, and there’s a website devoted to UMES football, but this is the best series of articles I’ve seen

    Roger Brown, Sherman Plunkett, and Art Shell were also among the first super athletic big men in pro football

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