ACC Legends Week: Duke's Mike McGee

Nov. 14, 2012


Mike McGee (Duke, 1957-59) was a tenacious two-way guard for the standout Duke teams of the late 1950's under head coach Bill Murray. In 1959, he became the first ACC player to be honored with the Outland Trophy, which is presented annually to the nation's top interior lineman. That year, as the ACC's top overall male athlete in any sport, he captured the McKevlin Award. He was also named the ACC Football Player of the Year and was a first-team All-America selection by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA), Time and Look Magazines. The 14th overall selection of the 1960 NFL Draft, he played three seasons in the National Football League with the St. Louis Cardinals. He then began a career in coaching and served eight seasons (1971-78) as Duke's head coach. His 37 wins for the Blue Devils is the third-most for a coach in Duke football history. After leaving Duke, he began a successful 25-year career in athletics administration serving as director of athletics at Cincinnati (1979-84), Southern California (1984-93) and South Carolina (1993-2005). While at Southern California in 1989, McGee founded the well-regarded Sports Management Institute (SMI) to create a highly-academic, graduate-level business program for athletic administrators. Inducted into the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame as a player in 1990, he was later named to the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) Hall of Fame for his administrative skills in 2010. Born in Washington, D.C., he grew up in Elizabeth City, N.C., and now lives in Montrose, Colo.

You and your (twin) brother Jerry both decided to attend Duke. Just curious if you had always been Duke fans growing up, and if that was a "package deal?"

(Laughs) No, it wasn't a package deal or anything like that. My father was in the Coast Guard and was stationed in Elizabeth City for three tours. We grew up there, and when it came time to attend college, we both decided that we wanted to matriculate at Duke University. Being twins, we had been roommates for the first 18 years of our life. We decided we would be roommates for four more. Later on, when I was head coach at Duke, Jerry was my defensive coordinator for five of the years I was there. And I always told everyone that he was the best football coach in the family.

What was it like to play for Coach Murray?

I was fortunate to play under and work with some truly outstanding coaches--Murray, Warmath at Minnesota and many others. Coach Murray was among those at the top of the list. He let it be known from the outset that there were certain expectations and a certain decorum that was expected of you as a Duke University student and as a member of the football team. If you didn't meet those expectations, you weren't going to play or you stood a possibility of being separated from the team - permanently. It didn't matter if it was Sonny Jurgensen or the last guy in the lineup. Those expectations did not change. He was so consistent with that, and kind of set the framework for the way he responded to the team and the way the team members conducted themselves.

I know the Orange Bowl game your sophomore year must have been a highlight of your time playing for him. Any others that stand out?

My junior year (1958), we weren't going to a bowl, and we were ending the season with the University of North Carolina. Jerry and I almost went to North Carolina. Jim Tatum was the head coach there, and we thought a lot of him. That was a time when there were very few bowls, and we eked out a 7-6 victory. And we had a big win over Illinois when they were undefeated.

How about as a coach?

As a coach, you tend to remember individual games more. For a player, they sometimes tend to run together. Schedules were a little different then. You didn't play I-AA schools. My first year as head coach at Duke, we beat Stanford, which went on to beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl. We beat them out there, and the next year they came back to Durham and beat us. We beat Florida in my first game (as head coach at Duke) in Tampa - neutral site, you know. We had a win over Washington, at Tennessee-- again, it was just a totally different schedule back then.

You were the first ACC player to receive the Outland Trophy. What did it mean to be recognized as the nation's top interior lineman?

Frankly, I wasn't tuned into the Outland or any of the other awards while we were going through the season, but like anyone, I was honored to receive that award. They awarded the Outland in Omaha, and they invited us back there for 50th anniversary of my receiving it... that was neat. They had a lot of old pictures. But I must say that there's been so much progress in early development, early weight-training and those kinds of things. The athletes today are so much stronger and faster than we were. But I had a wonderful experience and was very thankful for those awards. I didn't think much about them until after the season was over, but they came our way.

You had only been the head coach at East Carolina for a year when the Duke job opened up. Did you pretty much jump at the chance to go back and coach at your alma mater?

I had played in the NFL for three seasons before I was injured and then was an assistant coach at Minnesota for three years. Then East Carolina was kind enough to invite me in and offer me the job. But I had an agreement with the president and the A.D. that if Duke came calling, I'd be free from my contract. That was the only school that was included in that. So after a year that happened. I hated to leave East Carolina, but it was a chance to return to my alma mater, and I took it.

Even when you were a head coach, were you thinking long-term about maybe one day getting into the administrative side of college athletics?

When I left Duke (as head coach), I really wasn't sure what direction I wanted to go in. I somehow got involved and interviewed at Illinois. Then Cincinnati came calling, and at that time I was working on my doctorate and still had not completed my dissertation. I told them I couldn't consider going there until I had finished all my course work - all the orals and writtens and other things that are part of that process. I told them I couldn't report for four months. There are too many people who are ABD - all but dissertation - and I wasn't going to be in that boat. It ended up they agreed to that. So I reported in August instead of in April, when they had first interviewed me. That doesn't happen very often.

There's a lot to be proud of when you look back at your three stops as an athletics director. What gives you your biggest sense of accomplishment?

When South Carolina called, they had just left the old Metro Conference and had been in the SEC about nine months. They were still in the learning process of making the transition to the SEC. That sounded like fun. But then you had the reality of lining up against Georgia and Tennessee and LSU and Alabama. Construction and other things had to occur and had to generally be in the mold of the SEC from that point forward. That was an exciting challenge.

Our time at Southern Cal was a lot of fun. We went to four Rose Bowls in eight years during my time there. In basketball, I hired George Raveling to be our head coach and we beat UCLA twice his second year there, home and away. The wonderful tradition at Southern Cal, the support you enjoyed and all of those seasons in the Coliseum...we had a great time there. But we were from the Carolinas, and when South Carolina called it was a tough decision, but we made the move back there. It was a special time there as well. Lou Holtz was the (football) coach and made such great contributions. It doesn't seem like a big thing now, but we reached the point where we were on television every game. That had not been the case before Lou arrived there. And Lou helped me recruit Steve Spurrier later to become the head coach, so I give him the credit.

What led to your founding of the Sports Management Institute?

That was actually part of my doctoral dissertation - Problem-Solving Curriculum For Sports Management Institute. A lot of different aspects from that were pulled into the founding of SMI, and it's still basically the curriculum that is followed today. We originally started that with Notre Dame, USC and North Carolina. We then added Michigan, Texas and South Carolina.

I stepped down as the director five years ago, but from the graduates that have come out of that program - at last count there were something like 75 ADs. But it is a problem-solving curriculum, and when you are in the athletics business that can be very helpful.