Hall of Fame - Inductee Detail

John "Big John" Merritt

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 Biography

John 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, 1983.