Vernon 'Skip' McCain

  • Grambling State University football coach Eddie Robinson didn’t lose many games over a 55-year career; 165 to be exact. Four came at the talons of the Maryland State College Hawks coached by Vernon “Skip” McCain. Vernon Skip McCain

    In fact, Robinson’s Tigers never beat a McCain-led squad.

    That impressive statistic is the culminating credential in a resume that earned McCain posthumous induction in 2006 to the College Football Hall of Fame, which reads, in part:

    McCain came to … Princess Anne from Tennessee State, where he was head basketball coach and the top assistant football coach. His friend thought that he was making a mistake.

    McCain proved everyone wrong by attracting and producing NFL stars like Johnny Sample, Roger Brown, Sherman Plunkett and Emerson Boozer.

    He often visited players in their dorm rooms to check on (their) school work and was confident (enough) in his abilities … to ask for player opinion on practice and game strategy.

    He often said, ‘Not only must you be a winner on the field but in the classroom.’ He also passed on his strong faith in God to his players.

    Skip was … an innovator in race relations as his teams occasionally played all-white teams. Fans of all races attended Maryland State games, regardless of the opposition.

    Legendary coach Eddie Robinson … learned that McCain’s teams were formidable. The Hawks won all four meetings, outscoring the Tigers 87-20.

    From 1948 to 1963, Maryland State won more than 80 percent of its games under McCain, making him the most successful African American head coach in college football history. Four times - in 1949, 1950, 1952 and 1955 - his teams were unbeaten and untied.

    In McCain's first season as head coach, he scheduled a mid-October road game against Albright College in Reading, Pa.

    His squad came away with an impressive 25-0 upset win. It was among post-World War II America's first “interracial” college football games, as newspaper headlines of that era often described such contests.*

    “A forlorn, silent crowd,” the Albright College newspaper noted, “stumbled out of the Stadium quite willing to admit (it) had seen a flashy football machine crush a favored Lion eleven in a way they probably will remember for a while.”

    Several weeks later, Maryland State traveled north again to play another traditionally white institution, Bridgeport (Conn.) College, and won that game as well.

    Skip McCain on the sidelineThe following year, the Hawks played games against teams from two other traditionally white schools – New Jersey state teachers colleges in Glassboro and Trenton. This time, the games were played in Princess Anne and are widely viewed as the first of their kind to be played south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The Hawks won both on their way to a perfect season.

    In addition to coaching football, McCain also was an assistant professor of mathematics as well as the college’s athletic director and basketball coach.

    In January 1950, the 5-foot 5-inch McCain took his basketball team to Hanover, N.H. to play Dartmouth. That match-up 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.”

    McCain, who eschewed profanity, was a widely admired coach and educator as well as a respected member of the campus and surrounding communities. He was inducted in the UMES Athletics Hall of Fame in 1973.

    A road in the center of campus adjacent to the Frederick Douglass Library, Wilson and Harford halls bears his name.

    McCain died in Princess Anne on April 5, 1993. He was 84.

    Posthumously, the American Football Coaches Association named him the recipient of its 2012 Trailblazer Award.


    * Football teams from Wilberforce and Rio Grande, both in Ohio, played games in 1946 and 1947, believed to be a first between historically black and traditionally white colleges, according to the College Football Hall of Fame.