|Vernon “Skip” McCain led Maryland State (now known as UMES) to six undefeated seasons as football coach.|
The AFCA Trailblazer Award was created to honor early leaders in the football coaching profession who coached at historically black colleges and universities. Past Trailblazer Award winners include Charles Williams of Hampton (2004), Cleve Abbott of Tuskegee(2005), Arnett Mumford of Southern (2006), Billy Nicks of Prairie View A&M (2007), Alonzo “Jake” Gaither of Florida A&M (2008), Fred “Pops” Long of Wiley (2009), Harry R. “Big Jeff” Jefferson of Bluefield State (2010),and Edward P. Hurt of Morgan State (2011). The award is given each year to a person that coached in a particular decade ranging from 1920-1970. This year’s winner coached from 1950 to 1959.
McCain graduated from Langston University, where he graduated second in his class among math students. McCain also led the Langston Lions’ football team as an All-American quarterback in 1930. McCain’s coaching journey took him from the high schools in Oklahoma City, to Tennessee State, where he was the head basketball coach, as well as the top football assistant, before finally landing at Maryland State, where he would make his name.
While at Maryland State, McCain was involved all over campus. In addition to being the head football coach, he was also the head basketball coach, athletic director, and also served as an assistant professor of mathematics at the college. McCain’s basketball pro- gram went on to record 76 wins and only 11 losses (1948-1952), adding to McCain’s ability to produce winners across multiple sports.
What set him apart from the rest of the nation wasn’t his basketball coaching, though, it was his monstrous football team. In the small town of Princess Anne, Maryland, McCain built up a program that rivaled some of the best in the nation. Over the course of 17 years, his teams rolled to 103 wins, 16 losses, and four ties, including six undefeated seasons, four of which were perfect. McCain’s stellar coaching career would land him squarely in the company of football’s greatest, with a win percentage (85.3%) higher than Woody Hayes of Ohio State University (75.9%) and Bear Bryant of the University of Alabama (77.6%).
McCain, who had been told by friends that he’d never be able to recruit players to a school like Maryland State, especially in a town like Princess Anne, proved all the doubters wrong by producing the most NFL players by any school at the time, sending more than 20 of his players to the next level. Included in the slew of talented players to come out of the Hawk program is Art Shell, who became an eight-time Pro-Bowler, an NFL Hall of Famer, and the first African American head coach in the modern era with the Los Angeles Raiders.
Along with Shell, McCain sent along players such as Johnny Sample, Roger Brown, Sherman Plunkett and Emerson Boozer. In addition to receiving the 2012 Trailblazer Award, McCain was inducted into the Hawk Hall of Fame in 1973. The University subsequently named an award after McCain and currently is trying to revive their football program under the name, “Vernon ‘Skip’McCain Football Reinstatement Fund.”
McCain was named Coach of the Year in 1950 by the Washington Pigskin Club, and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006. McCain would often visit with his players in their dorms and go over their schoolwork while asking them what they would change about practice or strategy. Academics was just as important as athletic success to McCain, who was often quoted stating, “Not only must you be a winner on the field, but also in the classroom.”