October 2009

Football Legends

Since we’re in the middle of football season, we thought it might be nice to profile a couple of PC’s football legends. Thanks once again to our interns, Stewart Self and Caroline Todd, for their hard work!

Walter A. Johnson

Perhaps should you find yourself perusing our prolific files regarding PC people, you would pick out a file on our own paragon of sportsmanship, Walter A. Johnson. Johnson was not only the greatest coach Presbyterian College has ever seen but also one of the greatest people who has ever found themselves on our lovely campus. Even a cursory glance of Johnson’s file reveals to us just how groundbreaking he was. He spearheaded South Carolina’s first ever floodlighted football field at Presbyterian, opening the state up to nighttime sports. He was a key player in founding the first coaching school in the South at USC in 1922. He was responsible for getting PC the first indoor swimming pool in the state.

Walter Johson 1920s

Walter Johnson 1920s

Even if you ignore his pioneering efforts, Walter Johnson was a great person. Called the “Genial Swede” by his friends, he is remembered as a mentor and a man of character. William P. Jacobs II said of Mr. Johnson, “Never once has he in his long career sacrificed principle for victory. Never has he stooped to conquer. Never has he suffered his boys to take the short cut to win. Fair play has been his creed. A fighter he has always been, but a fair fighter, a gracious victor and a cheerful loser.” Johnson served in the National Guard during World War II. He achieved the rank of Brigadier General. In 1938 the Lions Club, of which he was a member, awarded him the Outstanding Citizen Annual Award. The city of Greenville named him honorary mayor in 1949. 1953 brought Walter Johnson an honorary doctorate of law from PC.

Before Walter Johnson, Presbyterian College was without an athletic program. In his day, Johnson did the work that four or five college employees would do today. At one point in his career he coached athletics, arranged schedules, managed business, and taught classes. In his first few years he coached three athletic teams. His actual coaching career lasted 25 years (1915-1940), but when he returned from war in 1946 he became PC’s athletic director. 1930 showed Coach Johnson his finest football season ever with 9 wins and 1 loss. During this season, Johnson’s team defeated the Citadel, North Carolina State, and Wake Forest University on three consecutive weekends. Johnson’s record over his 25 year coaching career was 103 victories, 96 defeats, 19 ties.

For his achievements, Walter Johnson was called the Coaching Dean of the South. Unfortunately, in October 1958, Johnson’s tenure was ended by his death. He served longer than any other athletic employee at PC. –Stewart Self

Lonnie S. McMillian

There are some people who pass through PC barely making any sort of impression. Then there are the people who become legends in their own right. Coach Lonnie S. McMillian is one of the latter. Not only was he a star athlete when he was a student at PC, but also he coached various sports at PC for thirty-six years.

Born in 1893, McMillian was destined to be someone great. He was born and raised in Prescott, Arkansas. He was a student at Prescott High School and played on their first football team. Then in 1914, when he was a high school senior, he was named Arkansas All State Quarterback. And his football career was just beginning.

Lonnie McMillian undated

Lonnie McMillian undated

He came to PC in 1915, the same year as the soon to be legendary coach Walter A. Johnson. McMillian was on Johnson’s first football team at PC. Under Johnson, McMillian played as “fullback and end.” While at Presbyterian, McMillian captained football, basketball and track. He also earned sixteen letters in football, basketball, baseball and track. Then in 1920, while playing a game against Clemson, McMillian set a school record by having eleven pass receptions in one game. However, his PC experience as a student wasn’t just limited to sports. He was also a member of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. Then, he had to put PC on hold during World War I. He left PC in 1917 and spent two years in the US Navy. McMillian returned to PC and in 1922 he received an A.B. degree.

After college, McMillian became a coach. He taught and coached the first football team at Clinton High School from 1921 to 1922. He also coached at Thornwell without remuneration. Then, he returned to PC in 1923 when he became the assistant football coach. Since then, McMillian had tenure without interruption until 1959. McMillian wasn’t just limited to coaching football while he was at PC. He coached a total of four different sports at various times. He coached basketball, track, freshmen football and freshmen baseball. However, track and football were his specialties. Coach Walter A. Johnson was called to active duty in 1941 and McMillian stepped up and replaced Coach Johnson. McMillian was the varsity head football coach for thirteen seasons (1941-1954).

McMillian isn’t just a legend at PC, but he is a legend in the South as well. It was McMillian who introduced the T-formation offense into the Southeast through his 1941 Blue Hose squad. That same year, the team won championships of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association and the South Atlantic Conference. Then in 1946, McMillian help bring the team to victory in winning both Little Four and North State Conference titles. While he was the varsity football coach his team won sixty-one, lost fifty-eight and tied two.

For many McMillian was a role model. He developed six Little All-Americans and was a leader in the state in developing high school coaches. He was also the track coach for thirty-six years at P.C. While he was coach, the team won five state track championships. He also helped found the State College Track Meet. McMillian was also the head basketball coach for nineteen years (1930-1949). He carried one PC basketball team to the finals of the SIAA tournament. McMillian retired from coaching in 1959. Coach McMillian was loved by all. He was made athletic director emeritus by special action of the PC Board of Trustees. He was also given a lifelong status as a PC staff member. Also, in 1944 he was named Alumnus of the Year. A few years later, the 1949 Homecoming game was dedicated to Coach Walter A. Johnson and Lonnie S. McMillian. Later he was granted the “Gold P” Award, and made a member of the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame.

Toward the end of his life, Coach McMillian contracted a severe illness and lost a leg. He spent the last fifteen years of his life in a wheelchair. He died May 15, 1975 at the age of 81. His wife survived him and died in 1999. PC has set up a Lonnie S. McMillian Scholarship Fund. Many miss him, but he is not forgotten. –Caroline Todd