January 26, 1926|
|Died||December 13, 1983
|Coaching career (HC unless noted)|
|Head coaching record|
|Accomplishments and honors|
|Amos Alonzo Stagg Award (1995)|
|College Football Hall of Fame
Inducted in 1994 (profile)
John Ayers Merritt (January 26, 1926 – December 13, 1983) was a head football coach at Jackson State University and Tennessee State University. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1994.
He was born in Falmouth, Kentucky, and is an alumnus of Kentucky State University, where he played offensive guard on the football team from 1947 to 1949. He earned the nickname "Big John". He graduated in 1950 and earned a master's degree from the University of Kentucky in 1952.
He coached Jackson State University from 1953 to 1962, where he compiled a record of 60-32-4. Merritt led Jackson State to back-to-back appearances in the Orange Blossom Classic in 1961 and 1962 before being hired by what was then Tennessee A&I.
At Tennessee State (as Tennessee A&I was renamed in 1968), Merritt had four undefeated seasons, claimed four Midwestern Conference titles, seven Black College Football Championships: (1965, 1966, 1970, 1971, 1973, 1979 and 1982) and earned the school's first-ever NCAA Division I-AA playoff victory in 1982. Merritt coached many players who went into the National Football League, among them were Ed 'Too Tall' Jones, Joe Gilliam, Claude Humphrey, Mike Hegman, and Richard Dent. His coaching record at Tennessee State was 174–35–7, and had an 82% winning percentage—far and away the best in school history. 
John Merritt Boulevard in Nashville, Tennessee is named in his honor, and the Tennessee State football team opens every season with the John Merritt Classic game against Alabama A&M University, until recently the Classic headlines other HBCU teams, in particular 2015—Tennessee State will play host to Alabama State University on September 6, 2015.
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