Johnny Majors
Majors in 2009
Biographical details
Born(1935-05-21)May 21, 1935
Lynchburg, Tennessee
DiedJune 3, 2020(2020-06-03) (aged 85)
Knoxville, Tennessee
Playing career
1957Montreal Alouettes
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
1957Tennessee (GA)
1958–1959Tennessee (backfield)
1960–1963Mississippi State (DB)
1964–1967Arkansas (assistant)
1968–1972Iowa State
Head coaching record
Accomplishments and honors
National (1976)
3 SEC (1985, 1989, 1990)
College Football Hall of Fame
Inducted in 1987 (profile)

John Terrill Majors (May 21, 1935 – June 3, 2020) was an American professional football player and college coach. A standout halfback at the University of Tennessee, he was an All-American in 1956 and a two-time winner of the Southeastern Conference Most Valuable Player award, in 1955 and 1956. He finished second to Paul Hornung in voting for the Heisman Trophy in 1956. After playing one season in the Canadian Football League (CFL), Majors became a college assistant coach. He served as the head coach at Iowa State University (1968–1972), the University of Pittsburgh (1973–1976, 1993–1996), and Tennessee (1977–1992), compiling a career college football record of 185–137–10. His 1976 Pittsburgh squad won a national championship after capping a 12–0 season with a victory in the Sugar Bowl. Majors was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1987.

Playing career

Majors played high school football for the Huntland Hornets of Franklin County, Tennessee.[1] They won the state championship in 1951. Majors' father, Shirley Majors, was the head coach at Huntland from 1949 to 1957 and then head coach at The University of the South, Sewanee, from 1957 to 1977. Majors also played alongside his brother, Joe, at Huntland. Another brother, Bobby, also played at Tennessee and professionally for the Cleveland Browns. In all, Majors had four brothers, who all played football. Johnny was the oldest.[2]

A triple-threat tailback at the University of Tennessee, one of the last schools to use the single-wing rather than some version of the T formation, Majors was an All-American and runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 1956. Majors lost the Heisman Trophy to Paul Hornung, who starred for Notre Dame, which had a losing record (2–8).[3] To date, this is the only time the Heisman Trophy has been awarded to a player on a losing team.[4] Many fans of college football believe that Hornung won the Heisman because he played for the storied Notre Dame program, despite the team having a losing record.

He played for the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL in 1957 and then became an assistant coach at several schools.[5]

Coaching career

Iowa State

Majors was the 24th head football coach for the Iowa State University Cyclones located in Ames, Iowa and he held that position for five seasons, from 1968 until 1972. His career coaching record at Iowa State was 24–30–1.[6] During his time at Iowa State he guided the Cyclones to their first ever bowl games in 1971 and 1972. Majors ranks tied for 8th at Iowa State in total wins and 19th in win percentage.[7]


After Iowa State, Majors found his greatest success as coach of the University of Pittsburgh Panthers in 1973. In Pittsburgh, he recruited such greats as Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett and Matt Cavanaugh, among others.[8][9] The Panthers won the national title in 1976, after which Majors went back to Tennessee, his alma mater. Majors also received National Coach of the Year honors for that season.[10]


At Tennessee, Majors achieved success in the 1980s and early 1990s winning three SEC championships in 1985, 1989, and 1990, but falling short of a national title.[11][12][13] In 1989, the Majors-led Vols followed a 5–6 season with an 11–1 season, the largest turnaround in college football that year.[14]

The University forced Majors to resign as Tennessee's football coach during the closing weeks of the 1992 football season.[15] The Vols racked up a 3–0 record under interim coach Phillip Fulmer, a longtime Majors assistant, who steered the team while Majors was recovering from heart surgery. After the Vols went 2–3 following Majors' return, he suddenly was asked to resign during the week leading up to Tennessee's game at Memphis State. A Knoxville News Sentinel story reported that while Majors was recuperating from heart surgery, Fulmer allegedly exchanged 26 telephone calls with Tennessee Athletics Board member Bill Johnson, who had played with Majors in the mid-1950s at Tennessee. A strong contingent within the Tennessee fan base believes that it was behind-the-scenes maneuvering on the part of Fulmer, Johnson, athletics director Doug Dickey, and university president Joe Johnson that pushed Majors out. Other fans believe that Majors created his own problems in the summer of 1992 by, among other things, complaining about his current contract during a preseason publicity tour across the state. Many speculate it was likely a combination of all circumstances.[16]

Pittsburgh (second stint)

After being forced to resign at Tennessee, he returned to his second home of the University of Pittsburgh to once again coach the Panthers. Throughout the mid-1990s, Majors tried to recreate the magic of 1976 at Pitt but achieved little success going 12–32 in four seasons from 1993–1996. He retired from coaching following the 1996 NCAA season and served at Pitt in the position of Special Assistant to the Athletic Director and Chancellor until the summer of 2007.[17] A room on the second floor of the Pittsburgh Athletic Association adjacent to Pitt's campus is dedicated to him and displays memorabilia from his career.[18]


Majors died on June 3, 2020 at his home in Knoxville, Tennessee. [19] He was buried in the Lynchburg, Tennessee cemetery alongside his parents, Shirley Majors and Elizabeth Bobo Majors, and his brother Bill Majors.


Knoxville named a street after Majors. Johnny Majors Drive is on the campus of the University of Tennessee and is the location of the school's practice facility.[20] Actor Lee Majors borrowed Johnny Majors' last name to form his stage name. According to one published account, Lee, whose real name is Harvey Lee Yeary, met Johnny when he was a football player at Tennessee and they became friends.[21] Lee Majors was regularly seen on the sidelines during Johnny Majors' first tenure at Pittsburgh and during the early days at Tennessee.[22]

Head coaching record

Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs Coaches# AP°
Iowa State Cyclones (Big Eight Conference) (1968–1972)
1968 Iowa State 3–7 1–6 7th
1969 Iowa State 3–7 1–6 7th
1970 Iowa State 5–6 1–6 T–6th
1971 Iowa State 8–4 4–3 4th L Sun 17
1972 Iowa State 5–6–1 2–4–1 5th L Liberty
Iowa State: 24–30–1 9–25–1
Pittsburgh Panthers (NCAA Division I independent) (1973–1976)
1973 Pittsburgh 6–5–1 L Fiesta
1974 Pittsburgh 7–4
1975 Pittsburgh 8–4 W Sun 13 15
1976 Pittsburgh 12–0 W Sugar 1 1
Tennessee Volunteers (Southeastern Conference) (1977–1992)
1977 Tennessee 4–7 1–5 8th
1978 Tennessee 5–5–1 3–3 T–4th
1979 Tennessee 7–5 3–3 T–5th L Astro-Bluebonnet
1980 Tennessee 5–6 3–3 6th
1981 Tennessee 8–4 3–3 T–4th W Garden State
1982 Tennessee 6–5–1 3–2–1 5th L Peach
1983 Tennessee 9–3 4–2 T–3rd W Citrus
1984 Tennessee 7–4–1 3–3 T–5th L Sun
1985 Tennessee 9–1–2 5–1 1st W Sugar 4 4
1986 Tennessee 7–5 3–3 6th W Liberty
1987 Tennessee 10–2–1 4–1–1 3rd W Peach 13 14
1988 Tennessee 5–6 3–4 T–6th
1989 Tennessee 11–1 6–1 T–1st W Cotton 5 5
1990 Tennessee 9–2–2 5–1–1 1st W Sugar 7 8
1991 Tennessee 9–3 5–2 3rd L Fiesta 15 14
1992 Tennessee 5–3* 3–3* 3rd (East)* * 12* 12*
Tennessee: 116–62–8 57–40–3 *Three early games and the Bowl game are credited to Phillip Fulmer.
Pittsburgh Panthers (Big East Conference) (1993–1996)
1993 Pittsburgh 3–8 2–5 6th
1994 Pittsburgh 3–8 2–5 7th
1995 Pittsburgh 2–9 0–7 8th
1996 Pittsburgh 4–7 3–4 5th
Pittsburgh: 45–45–1 7–21
Total: 185–137–10
      National championship         Conference title         Conference division title or championship game berth

Coaching tree

The following assistant coaches under Johnny Majors became college or professional head coaches:

See also


  1. ^ "John Terrill Majors". Tennessee Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  2. ^ Courier, Robert. "Johnny Majors talks football, career at King fundraiser". Herald Courier. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  3. ^ "1956 Heisman Trophy Voting". College Football at Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  4. ^ ""Paul Hornung". Retrieved June 3, 2020.
  5. ^ "1957 Montreal Alouettes". Pro Football Archives. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  6. ^ "Johnny Majors Coaching Record". College Football at Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  7. ^ Iowa State Coaching Records Archived June 23, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Greif, Ed. "Dorsett a special guest at Johnny Majors Invitational". Crossville Chronicle. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  9. ^ "Assistant Matt Cavanaugh steady influence as Jets' Mark Sanchez works to get back on track". Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  10. ^ "John T. Majors". Tennessee State Library and Archives. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  11. ^ "1985 Southeastern Conference Year Summary". College Football at Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  12. ^ "1989 Southeastern Conference Year Summary". College Football at Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  13. ^ "1990 Southeastern Conference Year Summary". College Football at Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  14. ^ "UT Vols: At 83, Johnny Majors remains Tennessee football icon". Knoxville News Sentinel. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  15. ^ Brown, Patrick. "Playing the what-if game: The 1992 changing of the guard Tennessee Vols football". 24/7 Sports. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  16. ^ NorCalVol (August 2012). "20 Years Ago in Big Orange Country: The season when one legend replaced another". Rocky Top Talk.
  17. ^ Sciullo, Sam (2004). Tales from the Pitt Panthers. ISBN 9781582611983.
  18. ^ "Johnny Majors - Tennessee's Hall of Fame". Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  19. ^ Raucoules, Gregory (June 3, 2020). "Legendary Vols coach and player Johnny Majors dies at 85". Retrieved June 3, 2020.
  20. ^ "AMONG FOOTBALL ROYALTY, MAJORS IS KING OF TENNESSEE". Washington Post. November 5, 1992. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  21. ^ "CYBORG:Lee Majors Online | Press Room | Why Lee Majors Took Another Man's Name".
  22. ^ Jack Neely, "The Big Orange Screen: How Have the Vols Fared in Hollywood?" Metro Pulse, August 27, 2014. Accessed at the Internet Archive, October 5, 2015.
  23. ^ "Lynn Amedee resigned Tuesday after two years as head..." UPI. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  24. ^ Yost, Aaron. "Ex-OSU football coach dies at 68". Corvallis Gazette Times. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  25. ^ Person, Joseph. "A different coaching "Family"". The Charlotte Observer. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  26. ^ Patton, Maurice. "Kippy Brown: Reflections from 37 years of coaching". The Daily Herald. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  27. ^ "Ames Daily Tribune Newspaper Archives, Apr 16, 1968, p. 10". April 16, 1968. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  28. ^ Chandler, Charles. "Panthers Coach Capers Is Committed". Tulsa World. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  29. ^ "Capers gives Texans detail-minded coach". Houston Chronicle. January 21, 2001. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
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  32. ^ "Johnny Majors Visits Duke". Duke Blue Devils Athletics. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  33. ^ "Daryl Dickey rebuilding West Georgia". Knoxville News Sentinel. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  34. ^ "West Georgia Hires Daryl Dickey As head coach". CSTV. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
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  36. ^ "Huntsville - Madison County Athletic Hall of Fame - Alabama". Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  37. ^ "Deja 'gru' for Jon Gruden UT 'grumors'". WBIR. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  38. ^ "Bucs Hire Another Assistant". tribunedigital-orlandosentinel. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  39. ^ DiPaola, Jerry. "Johnny Majors, Walt Harris return to the Pitt sidelines for Blue-Gold game Saturday". Tribune Live. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  40. ^ "Did you know famous football coach Jimmy Johnson got his start at this Mississippi school?". Sun Herald. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  41. ^ "Former NFL QB, NCAA coach named to TKA job". The Mountain Press.
  42. ^ "Johnny Majors, A Legend of the Game". Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  43. ^ "1985 Vols were sweet as Sugar". Knoxville News Sentinel. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  44. ^ "Hope Announces Football Coaching Staff Changes". Purdue Athletics. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  45. ^ "Bill Pace Coaching Record". College Football at Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  46. ^ "ETSU names Randy Sanders head football coach". ETSU Athletics. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  47. ^ "Tennessee football coach Johnny Majors completed his coaching staff..." UPI. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  48. ^ "Two of A Kind: Majors, Sherrill Coaching Careers Have Intertwined For 30 Years". September 18, 1991. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  49. ^ Dellenger, Ross. "Meet new LSU defensive coordinator Kevin Steele -- the organizational freak whom LSU coach Les Miles hired to replace John Chavis". The Advocate. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
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  51. ^ "Tommy West relaxes in role as MTSU assistant coach". The Tennessean. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
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