Back to search

John Merritt


John Ayers Merritt

Inducted 1994

Date of Birth



Falmouth, KY


Tennessee State University (1963-1983)

Jackson State University (1953-1962)


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 from 1963-83 with a 172-33-7 record. Five of his teams were unbeaten, five lost only one game. In the period 1969-73, his 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, Louisiana - Lafayette in 1970, and McNeese in 1971. The regional was changed to the Mideast in 1972 and was named 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 numerous players who went into pro football. Best known of these were Too Tall Jones, Jim Gilliam, and Claude Humphrey. Merritt was known for smoking a cigar on the sidelines and 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.


Wins 232

Losses 65

Ties 11

Icon Tickets

Secure your tickets now and be apart of the legacy. Don’t miss the chance to experience greatness firsthand!

Icon Membership

Unlock exclusive access and be part of something legendary. Join our community and enjoy premium benefits today!

Icon Shop

Take a piece of greatness home. Shop our exclusive collection of themed items and preserve the legacy in your own way!