McKay is the youngest son of the late John McKay, who was the Buccaneers' first head coach. McKay was a ball boy for the Buccaneers when his father was the head coach. While his father was head coach at USC in Los Angeles, McKay played quarterback at Bishop Amat High School in La Puente, CA. When John McKay took the Tampa Bay job he moved his family, including son Rich, to Florida where McKay played quarterback his senior year at Jesuit High School of Tampa the 1976–1977 season. McKay earned his bachelor's degree from Princeton University in 1981 and graduated from Stetson University College of Law in 1984. Prior to entering the NFL, McKay was an attorney with the Tampa law firm of Hill, Ward, and Henderson. McKay and his wife, Terrin, have two sons, Hunter and John.
As the new general manager for the Buccaneers from 1994 to 2003, McKay directed six teams that reached the NFC playoffs and one team that won a Super Bowl title. In 1996, McKay hired Tony Dungy as head coach, and in 1999 the Bucs played in the NFC Championship Game.
During his tenure as general manager, McKay drafted players such as Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Mike Alstott, Ronde Barber, Derrick Brooks, and Warrick Dunn. McKay constructed the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster that featured seven Pro Bowl players. Also, the Buccaneers' 41 Pro Bowl selections between 1997 through 2002 were the most in the NFL.
Sapp and Brooks – both selected by McKay in the first round of the 1995 NFL Draft – are now both members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Sapp was enshrined in August 2013; Brooks is part of a seven-member 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame class that was announced January February 1, 2014 in New York City. According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, McKay is the only General Manager in 94-year history of the NFL to have his first two draft picks as a GM be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In 1998, McKay, then President and General Manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, worked closely with the Glazer Family, the city of Tampa, former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco, and Tampa Stadium Authority on the successful construction and opening of Raymond James Stadium.
In December 2003, McKay left the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was introduced as president and general manager of the Atlanta Falcons. In his first season of directing operations, the Falcons went to the NFC Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles. In January 2008, the Falcons hired Thomas Dimitroff as general manager, relegating McKay to the position of team president although McKay negotiated Matt Ryan's contract. McKay's Falcons in 2010-2011 had 9 Pro Bowlers.
Sixteen years after building Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, McKay, as President and CEO of the Atlanta Falcons, has worked closely with Falcons Chairman and Owner Arthur M. Blank, the city of Atlanta, and the Georgia World Congress Center stadium authority to secure approval and financing for the Falcons to begin construction on a $1.2 billion stadium that will be built in downtown Atlanta. The Falcons broke ground on the new building on May 19, 2014.
McKay is believed to be the only current NFL executive who has been the point person for the negotiations and construction of two NFL stadiums.
McKay is also the Chairman of the NFL Competition Committee, making him one of the more influential executives in the league.
For the past six years, McKay has served on the NFL Management Council Working Group of League executives that helps advise on collective bargaining issues. During the 2011 off-season, McKay played a pivotal role in navigating the difficult waters in helping to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement with the players that resulted in labor peace for the next ten years.