Tennessee legendary coach and player Johnny Majors reflects on his first game in a July 24, 2018 interview.
Knoxville News Sentinel
Johnny Majors, the legendary former Tennessee football coach and player and member of the College Football Hall of Fame, died Wednesday morning. She is 85.
“It is with a sad heart that we are making this announcement,” Mary Lynn Majors, husband of 61, said in a statement shared with Knox News. “John died this morning. He spent his last time doing something he loved so much: looking at his beloved Tennessee River.”
The majors rank Mount Rushmore within Tennessee athletics. He also remembers the likes of Pittsburgh and Iowa State, leaving behind a legacy of a coach who has skillfully built programs and left them better than he found them.
The Majors led Pittsburgh to a national championship and unbeaten season in 1976 before becoming Tennessee’s coach. In 16 seasons in Tennessee from 1977-92, the Majors compiled a 116-62-8 record.
“I think Johnny Majors ‘name is synonymous with Tennessee football,” said longtime WNML sports talk host Jimmy Hyams, who covered Majors’ coaching career while he was a columnist at The News Sentinel.
The Majors compiled a record of 185-137-10 in 29 seasons as a head coach at Iowa State, Pittsburgh and Tennessee.
A native of Lynchburg, Tennessee, the Majors played in Tennessee from 1953-56. He starred as the Vols’ single-wing tailback at a time when most programs moved to developing T-forms.
The Majors ran, passed, punched, returned a kick and played defense. He was named SEC Player of the Year in 1955 and 1956. He rushed for 1,622 yards and passed for 1,135 in his career.
The leaders earned consensus All-America honors in 1956, when he rushed for 549 yards and seven touchdowns and passed for 552 yards and five touchdowns. He finished as the Heisman Trophy runner-up behind Paul Hornung of Notre Dame. Some thought the Majors deserved the award. The Irish went 2-8, making Hornung the lone Heisman winner from a losing team. Meanwhile, Tennessee went 10-1 in 1956 and won the SEC championship.
The majors were inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1987.
After coaching coaches in Tennessee, Mississippi State and Arkansas, the Majors entered his first head coaching gig at Iowa State in 1968. In five seasons, he led the Cyclones to a 24-30-1 record. Iowa State had just four wins in two seasons before the Majors arrived. Storms played bowl games in each of his last two seasons there. The program had never played in a bowl before the Majors’ tenure.
The Majors took over a program in Pittsburgh in 1973 that was coming off a 1-10 season and sparked an impressive rotation. Led by Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett, Pittsburgh won the national championship in 1976 with a 12-0 season. The Majors receive National Coach of the Year honors.
“I am saddened to hear of the passing of my beloved coach, Johnny Majors,” Dorsett said in a statement. “He was more than an integral part of my college football career; he was a dear friend who continued his contact with me beyond my playing days.”
Tennessee hired the Majors in December 1976. He stayed to coach the Panthers in a victory over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl to cover their undefeated season.
“When they got him back to a national championship in Pittsburgh … it was definitely one of the great, successful moments in Tennessee football,” said former News Sentinel sportswriter Mike Strange, who has covered most of his tenure at coach of the Majors’ UT.
Tennessee advised the Majors to release from Pittsburgh a six-year contract worth $ 50,000 annually to train his alma mater.
“I know you expect a lot from football coaches in Tennessee, but I will expect more from myself and my staff,” Majors said at his opening news conference in Tennessee. “You can win here and win big, but I also have to say there are going to be ups and downs. I’m not a miracle worker.”
There are more downs than downs.
In his 16 seasons at UT, the Majors led the Vols to three SEC championships (1985, 1989, 1990). The Vols won the Sugar Bowl to cap the 1985 and 1990 seasons and won the Cotton Bowl to end an 11-1 season in 1989.
“Dynamic on the field. Fierce on the sidewalk. Unique Tennessean,” the Tennessee football program said in a statement on Twitter. “We regret the loss of legendary player and coach Johnny Majors – a man who left an indelible mark on Tennessee Football.”
The Majors were forced to coach in 1992 and were replaced by Phillip Fulmer, his former assistant.
The Majors ‘tenure became the foundation for the Vols’ dominance in the 1990s.
“He inspired the rise of Tennessee football in the late ’80s and early’ 90s,” said J.J. McCleskey, a former Vols captain who played for the Majors from 1989-92. “I think the biggest thing is, this guy is very proud of the University of Tennessee. He loved his alma mater. He won a national championship at the University of Pittsburgh and returned to his alma mater. That’s a lot to say about his love and character and upbringing in Tennessee. “
Johnny Majors, a legendary coach for the Tennessee football team and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, has died. She is 85.
After the Majors expulsion in Tennessee, he finished his career path in another four-year stint in Pittsburgh. After retiring from coaching in 1996, he served as Pittsburgh’s special assistant to the athletic director and chancellor until 2007.
“He has led us to our greatest glory and transformed Pitt forever,” Pittsburgh’s football program said in a statement on Twitter. “Thank you, Coach. Rest in peace.”
Majors played for his father, Shirley, at Huntland High School in Franklin County, Tennessee. After going 1-9 in the Majors freshman year, Huntland won 70 in the next 71 games – most with the Majors or one of his brothers leading the way.
Sen described it. Lamar Alexander described the Majors family as the “First Family of Tennessee football” in a statement to Knox News.
“As a teenager, I rode the White Star Lines bus from Maryville to Knoxville and sold all my UT programs before the game started so I could watch every Johnny Majors running and pass and punch and fast kick, “Alexander said in the statement. “When he played the game, he was Tennessee football.”
Majors brothers Bill and Bobby also played for Tennessee. Bill was a Vols assistant in 1965, when he died in a train wreck. Johnny Majors is the oldest of five brothers who all played college football. Her sister also participated in sports.
Majors lived in Knoxville with his wife while retiring.
During the many years of his retirement, the Majors worked with sportswriter Jay Searcy to organize lunch gatherings, where they would bring in guest speakers to discuss a variety of topics, including history, science, art and symphony.
“He loved college football, knew everything about it,” Strange said, “but he was just interested in so many things – the art. I saw him at concerts. He loved to travel. He loved to travel. He loved to travel. he’s just a lot of things. He’s a very interesting guy to me. I feel like he’s certainly leading a good life. “
A memorial service at St. John’s Cathedral will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family asks for contributions to the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra or a charity.
News Sentinel’s Allie Clouse, Mike Wilson and Al Lesar contributed to this story.