Johnny Majors, famed college coach , dies at 85


Johnny Majors, famed college coach , dies at 85

A former star for Tennessee, he led Pitt to a national championship and coached the Volunteers for 16 seasons, only to be ousted after operation .

Johnny Majors, the school coach who led the University of Tennessee to 3 SEC championships and therefore the University of Pittsburgh to a national championship, has died. He was 85.

Majors died early Wednesday at his range in Knoxville, Tennessee, consistent with his wife, Mary Lynn.

"It's with a tragic heart that we make this announcement. John gave up the ghost this morning," Mary Lynn Majors said during a statement provided to the University of Tennessee.
Majors "spent his last hours doing something he dearly loved: searching over his cherished Tennessee ," she said.
Majors coached Iowa State from 1968-1972, then the University of Pittsburgh from 1973-1976, where the team won the 1973 Fiesta Bowl and therefore the 1976 National Championship in his final season, alongside Heisman-winning back Tony Dorsett.

Johnny Majors, a homegrown college football player in Tennessee who coached Pittsburgh to an undefeated season and a national championship before returning to his native state to forge a successful 16-year head-coaching career at the University of Tennessee — although one that led to bitterness — died on Wednesday at his range in Knoxville, Tenn. He was 85.

The University of Pittsburgh announced his death. No cause was given.

The even-tempered Majors was a university head coach for 29 years: five at Iowa State (1968-72), four at Pittsburgh (1973-76), 16 at Tennessee (1977-92) and 4 more back at Pittsburgh (1993-96). His overall record was 185-137-10.

Majors’s coaching years at Tennessee, in Knoxville, where he had been an All-America tailback, brought three Southeastern Conference championships and 12 postseason bowl trips. But just before the 1992 season, he underwent quintuple heart bypass surgery, and his offensive coordinator, Phillip Fulmer, was named interim coach while Majors recovered.

Fulmer won the primary three games of the season. Majors then returned and lost three of his first five games. Some people felt Majors had returned too quickly, some felt his football philosophy was too conservative, and a few felt Fulmer was maneuvering to urge the work full time.

Tennessee tailback, coaching legend Johnny Majors dies at age 85
Johnny Majors, who guided the University of Tennessee to 3 SEC championships, died Wednesday morning at 85. His death comes on the heels of Monday's announcement that former Auburn coach Pat Dye, an annual foe of Majors but also an in depth friend, died at 80.

Majors coached the Volunteers from 1977 to 1992, leading them to a 116-62-8 record and league crowns in 1985, 1989 and 1990. He took the program to 2 Sugar Bowls and a Cotton Bowl, winning all three of these matchups, including a shocking 35-7 blowout of No. 2 Miami in New Orleans after the 1985 season.

(Read more: Johnny Majors had his share of monumental triumphs with the Vols)


"The '85 team is one among the foremost favorite teams in Tennessee history among the fans," Majors said during a 2015 interview with the days press . "We overcame considerable adversity after losing Tony Robinson, who was the foremost talented quarterback I've ever coached. Daryl Dickey came off the bench and did an excellent job, and therefore the only player off that defense who was drafted was Richard Cooper, who was a reasonably average defensive lineman who aroused playing on the offensive line within the pros.

"We had some outstanding guys therein defensive backfield, which whole '85 team was crammed with guys who played up to their potential the maximum amount as any team I had in 29 years as a head coach. Dale Jones was an ideal example, because he was one among the best big-play men and greatest captains and greatest leaders I ever coached. He never played a moment of professional ball, but he's one among the best players in class history."
For his career, Majors tallied 1,622 rushing yards, 1,135 passing yards and 16 touchdowns. He also punted 83 times for a 39.1-yard average, returned 36 punts for 438 yards (12.2) and returned 15 kickoffs for 344 yards (22.9).

"As an adolescent , I rode the White Star Lines bus from Maryville to Knoxville and sold all my UT programs before the sport started so I could watch every Johnny Majors run and pass and punt and quick kick," U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said Wednesday during a released statement. "When he played the sport , he was Tennessee football, and therefore the Majors family became the primary family of Tennessee football. I need to know Johnny well when he was coach of the Volunteers, and that i was university president.

"That friendship continued for several years. Honey and that i send our sympathy and our great respect for Johnny's life to Mary Lynn and to the whole Majors family."

Mary Lynn Majors was originally Mary Lynn Barnwell and a graduate of Chattanooga's Girls prep school .


Majors became a head coach at Iowa State in 1968 and left after five seasons for an equivalent opportunity at Pittsburgh. His fourth and final season with the Panthers yielded the 1976 national championship, a 12-0 run led by back Tony Dorsett that culminated with a 27-3 pounding of Georgia within the dish .

After losing his job at Tennessee in 1992 and being replaced by offensive coordinator Phillip Fulmer, Majors returned to Pitt but couldn't replicate his success from before, going 12-32 from 1993 to 1996. Fulmer, meanwhile, led the Vols to a stellar run that included SEC titles in 1997 and 1998 and therefore the 1998 national championship, but he was removed as coach in 2008.

Tennessee struggled to a 63-62 record during the past decade, a stretch that didn't sit well with Majors.


"To be honest with you, they would not be struggling these last eight or 10 years had they not run me out the rear door," he said. "We had the three winningest years of my career in '89, '90 and '91. We won a Cotton Bowl, won a dish and visited the Fiesta Bowl and lost to Penn State. We visited three major bowls, and that they haven't done that in about 15 years.

"In my opinion, we might have won more national championships, because we had things going, and once you get things going, you'll repose on it. They already had a program built once they threw me out the door, a championship program, and they've let it go down through the years."

The Majors coaching tree includes two former assistants, Jimmy Johnson and Jon Gruden, who went on to win Super Bowls. It also contains Fulmer, Jackie Sherrill, David Cutcliffe, Dave Wannstedt and Dom Capers.

Majors underwent heart-valve surgery in March 2014 and managed to remain in good spirits when asked about his health.

"I catch myself sometimes when I'm having a touch cocktail out on my deck overlooking the Tennessee getting an excellent urge to urge off the deck and begin chewing some grass and moo, because I now have a cow's valve," he said. "It's working well, and i am doing fine."

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