John "Big John" Merritt
- Position: Coach
- School: Jackson State, Tennessee State
- Years: 1953-1983
- Inducted: 1994
- Place of Birth: Falmouth, KY
- Date of Birth: Jan 26, 1926
- Place of Death: Nashville, TN
- Date of Death: Dec 13, 1983
Member BiographyJohn Merritt was born January 26, 1926, in Falmouth,
Kentucky. He played guard for the Kentucky State
Football Team (1947-49), graduated in 1950, and earned a
Master's degree from the University of Kentucky in 1952.
In his first job as head coach at Jackson State (1953-62),
he had a 60-32-4 record. His greatest success was coach
at Tennessee State (1963-83) with a 172-33-7 record.
Five of his teams were unbeaten, five lost only one game.
In the period 1969-73, the record was 48-3-1. Tennessee
State was invited to play in the Grantland Rice Bowl in
Murfreesboro, Tennessee, when it was one of four regional
championships in NCAA Division II Football. In these
games, the midwest regional, Merritt's team tied Ball State
in 1965, beat Muskingum in 1966, Southwestern Louisiana
in 1970, and McNeese in 1971. The regional was changed
to mideast in 1972 with the Pioneer Bowl. Merritt's team
played in it and beat Drake. The Pittsburgh Courier chose
black college national champions in those days and gave
the title to Merritt's teams seven times -- 1965, 1966, 1970,
1971, 1973, 1979 and 1982.
Merritt coached 144 players who went into pro football.
Best known of these were Too Tall Jones, Jim Gilliam,
and Claude Humphrey.
Merritt was known as an after-dinner speaker with "folksy,
humorous stories." His total record for 31 years was 232-
65-11. On april 24, 1982, John Merritt Boulevard was
christened in Nashville, Tennessee, at the center of the
Tennessee State campus. John Merritt died December 13,