KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Johnny Majors, the 1976 Pittsburgh national championship team coach and former Tennessee head coach and player, died Wednesday. He was 85 years old.
Majors died at his Knoxville home, according to his wife, Mary Lynn Majors. “He spent his last hours doing something he loved: looking over his precious Tennessee River,” he said in a statement given to Sports Radio WNML.
Majors compiled a record 185-137-10 in 29 seasons as head coach at Iowa State (1968-72), Pitt (1973-76, 1993-96) and Tennessee (1977-92). That followed an outstanding playing career in Tennessee, during which he finished second behind Paul Hornung of Notre Dame in voting for the 1956 Heisman Trophy.
He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1987. Tennessee retired the Majors’ 45th jersey in 2012.
“Dynamic in the field. Fierce on the sidelines. Distinguished Tennessean, “the Tennessee soccer program tweeted.” We mourn the loss of legendary player and coach Johnny Majors, a man who left an indelible mark on Tennessee Football. “
Majors starred for the Volunteers from 1954-56 as a single-wing running back and player and was twice named the Southeast Conference Player of the Year. He went on to a successful coaching career and had his best year in 1976, when he led Pittsburgh to a national championship with a team with Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett.
“It was more than an integral part of my college football career; He was a dear friend who continued his relationship with me well beyond my playing days, “Dorsett said in a statement.” He took a high school boy and showed him how to be a leader and a man. My prayers go out to his family, Pitt’s community and all the players and coaches that have been a part of his life. Rest in heaven, coach.
During the 1956 season, Majors rushed to seven touchdowns, threw five TD passes and kicked and kicked back while driving Tennessee to a 10-1 record and a Sugar Bowl appearance. He ended his Vols career playing with 1,622 rushing yards and 1,135 passing yards.
He proved even more successful in the training ranks, where his training tree included Jimmy Johnson and Jackie Sherrill on his first staff in the state of Iowa. Majors gave Jon Gruden, currently the NFL Raiders coach, his first I work as a graduate assistant in Tennessee. Gruden said Majors taught him what soccer is about.
“He preached that loyalty and hard work are the building blocks of his success,” Gruden said in a statement. “The number of players he played over several decades is endless. He was a great soccer coach, a great competitor, and he really embodied what Tennessee soccer is all about. We lost a great man, and I will miss him very much. ”
Majors began his career as a head coach in 1968 in the state of Iowa. Three years later, he led the Cyclones to his first bowl bet in the history of the school. He posted a 24-30-1 record in the Iowa state from 1968-72 before Pitt hired him.
“It took us to our greatest glory and changed Pitt forever,” Pitt’s soccer program tweeted. “Thank you, coach. Rest in peace.”
The Panthers were coming from a 1-10 season when they took over and had won a total of 23 games in the nine years prior to their arrival. Majors was 33-13-1 in four years there and led Pitt to a 12-0 record in 1976.
“It was a team without real weakness, one of the best varsity teams of the past two decades,” Majors wrote in his 1986 book “You Can Go Home.” “I realized even then that he was a very lucky man. Few people in our profession have the experience of working with such a good team. ”
After that title-winning season, Majors returned to his alma mater to take over the Tennessee show. In his book, Majors said, “It was the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make.”
Majors went 116-62-8 in Tennessee from 1977-92 and led the Volunteers to SEC championships in 1985, 1989, and 1990. Tennessee won a bowl bet in 11 of its last 12 seasons on the job.
Majors missed the first three games of the 1992 season while recovering from cardiac bypass surgery. The Vols, trained by offensive coordinator Phillip Fulmer, had a 3-0 start. Majors returned for the fourth game, but was sent off and replaced by Fulmer after Tennessee ended the regular season with an 8-3 record.
“It gave many of us coaches our start in college football in a big way,” said Fulmer, now Tennessee’s athletic director. “He guided us, pushed us, and allowed us to be part of Tennessee’s proud soccer revival.”
Majors returned to Pitt the following year and was 12-32 as coach of the 1993-96 Panthers.
Majors was born in Lynchburg, Tennessee, and grew up there and in nearby Huntland. Her father, Shirley Majors, was a long-time soccer coach at the University of the South in Sewanee.
The youngest Majors was an assistant coach in the state of Mississippi and Arkansas before becoming head coach.
His death came two days after that of former Auburn coach Pat Dye, who died Monday at the age of 80. Majors went 4-5-2 against Dye, including a 38-20 surprise at the time No. 1 Auburn with Bo Jackson in 1985 when Majors was the SEC coach of the year.