Johnny Majors

Johnny Majors
Majors in 2009
Sport(s) Football
Biographical details
Born (1935-05-21) May 21, 1935
Lynchburg, Tennessee
Playing career
1953–1956 Tennessee
1957 Montreal Alouettes
Position(s) Halfback
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
1957 Tennessee (GA)
1958–1959 Tennessee (backfield)
1960–1963 Mississippi State (DB)
1964–1967 Arkansas (assistant)
1968–1972 Iowa State
1973–1976 Pittsburgh
1977–1992 Tennessee
1993–1996 Pittsburgh
Head coaching record
Overall 185–137–10
Bowls 9–6
Accomplishments and honors
1 National (1976)
3 SEC (1985, 1989, 1990)
All-American, 1956
SEC MVP (1955–1956)
Walter Camp Coach of the Year (1973)
AFCA Coach of the Year (1976)
Sporting News College Football COY (1976)
SEC Coach of the Year (1985)
College Football Hall of Fame
Inducted in 1987 (profile)

John Terrill Majors (born May 21, 1935) is a former American football player and 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. Majors served as the head football 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. 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.

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). To date, this is the only time the Heisman Trophy has been awarded to a player on a losing team. Many fans of college football, particularly Tennessee fans, believe that Hornung won the Heisman because he played for the storied Notre Dame program, although Hornung did lead his otherwise untalented team in passing, rushing, scoring, kickoff and punt returns, punting, and passes broken up and was second in interceptions and tackles made.

Majors is a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity. He played for the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League in 1957 and then became an assistant coach at several schools.

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. Majors ranks seventh at Iowa State in total wins and 16th in win percentage.[1]


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. 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.


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. In 1989, the Majors-led Vols followed a 5–6 season with an 11–1 season, the largest turnaround in college football that year.

The University forced Majors to resign as Tennessee's football coach during the closing weeks of the 1992 football season. 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.[2]

Return to Pittsburgh

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. 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.[3] 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. Majors now resides in Knoxville, Tennessee with his wife Mary Lynn.


Knoxville named a street after Majors. The street is on the campus of the University of Tennessee and is the location of the school's practice facility. Actor Lee Majors borrowed Majors's last name to form his stage name. According to one published account, Lee, whose real name is Harvey Lee Yeary, met Majors in his youth while Majors was a football player at Tennessee, and they became friends.[4] The two are not actually related, although Lee Majors was regularly seen on the sidelines during Johnny Majors' first tenure at Pittsburgh and during the early days at Tennessee.[5]

Head coaching record

Year Team Overall ConferenceStanding Bowl/playoffs Coaches# AP°
Iowa State Cyclones (Big Eight Conference) (1968–1972)
1968 Iowa State 3–71–67th
1969 Iowa State 3–71–67th
1970 Iowa State 5–61–6T–6th
1971 Iowa State 8–44–34thL Sun17
1972 Iowa State 5–6–12–4–15thL Liberty
Iowa State: 24–30–19–25–1
Pittsburgh Panthers (NCAA Division I independent) (1973–1976)
1973 Pittsburgh 6–5–1L Fiesta
1974 Pittsburgh 7–4
1975 Pittsburgh 8–4W Sun1315
1976 Pittsburgh 12–0W Sugar11
Tennessee Volunteers (Southeastern Conference) (1977–1992)
1977 Tennessee 4–71–58th
1978 Tennessee 5–5–13–3T–4th
1979 Tennessee 7–53–3T–5thL Astro-Bluebonnet
1980 Tennessee 5–63–36th
1981 Tennessee 8–43–3T–4thW Garden State
1982 Tennessee 6–5–13–2–15thL Peach
1983 Tennessee 9–34–2T–3rdW Citrus
1984 Tennessee 7–4–13–3T–5thL Sun
1985 Tennessee 9–1–25–11stW Sugar44
1986 Tennessee 7–53–36thW Liberty
1987 Tennessee 10–2–14–1–13rdW Peach1314
1988 Tennessee 5–63–4T–6th
1989 Tennessee 11–16–1T–1stW Cotton55
1990 Tennessee 9–2–25–1–11stW Sugar78
1991 Tennessee 9–35–23rdL Fiesta1514
1992 Tennessee 5–3*3–3*3rd (East)**12*12*
Tennessee: 116–62–857–40–3*Three early games and the Bowl game are credited to Phillip Fulmer.
Pittsburgh Panthers (Big East Conference) (1993–1996)
1993 Pittsburgh 3–82–56th
1994 Pittsburgh 3–82–57th
1995 Pittsburgh 2–90–78th
1996 Pittsburgh 4–73–45th
Pittsburgh: 45–45–17–21
      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


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