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Johnny Majors
Coach Johnny Majors in 2009
Coach Johnny Majors in 2009
Title Head coach
Sport Football
Born May 21, 1935 (1935-05-21) (age 74)
Place of birth United States Lynchburg, Tennessee
Career highlights
Overall 185–137–10
Bowls 9–7
Coaching stats
College Football DataWarehouse
1 National (1976)
3 SEC (1985, 1989-1990)
2x SEC MVP (1955-1956)
2x Paul "Bear" Bryant Award (1973, 1976)
Walter Camp Coach of the Year (1973)
SEC Coach of the Year (1985)
Playing career
Montreal Alouettes
Position Tailback
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
Iowa State
College Football Hall of Fame, 1987 (Bio)

Johnny Majors (born May 21, 1935 in Lynchburg, Tennessee) is a former standout tailback at the University of Tennessee and was also a longtime head football coach for Tennessee, Iowa State University, and the University of Pittsburgh. 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 1949–1957. Majors also played alongside his brother, Joe, at Huntland.

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. 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 University

Majors was the 24th head college 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 wins, 30 losses, and 1 tie. This ranks him seventh at Iowa state in total wins and 16th at Iowa state in winning percentage.[1]

University of Pittsburgh

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 his alma mater. Majors also received National Coach of the Year honors for that season.

University of Tennessee

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 Championship. In 1989, the Majors-led Vols followed a 5–6 season with a 11–1 season, the largest turnaround of the year.

Majors was forced to resign as UT's football coach during the closing weeks of the 1992 football season. The Vols racked up a 5-0 record under interim coach Phillip Fulmer, a longtime Majors assistant, who steered the team while Majors was recovering from heart surgery. After the Vols lost three games following Majors' return, he suddenly was asked to resign during the week leading up to Tennessee's game at Memphis State.

Some believe that Majors was forced out in order to make room for Fulmer, who had become more popular with a majority of fans following his success as interim coach. A Knoxville News Sentinel story at the time also reported that Fulmer allegedly exchanged 26 telephone calls while Majors was recuperating from heart surgery with then-UT Athletics Board member Bill Johnson, who had played with Majors in the mid-1950s at UT.

A strong contingent within the UT fan base believe that the Majors firing was the result of behind the scenes maneuvering on the part of Fulmer, Johnson, then-UT athletics director Doug Dickey and then-UT president Joe Johnson.

The other strong contingent believes that Majors created his own problems in the summer of 1992 by, among other things, complaining about his current contract with UT during a preseason publicity tour across the state.

Return to Pittsburgh

After being forced to resign at Tennessee, he returned to his second home 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.[1] 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.


  • Majors lost the Heisman Trophy to Paul Hornung, who starred for Notre Dame. That year Notre Dame 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 Notre Dame which at the time was the "big shot" football school.
  • He is a member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity.
  • The City of 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' last name to form his stage name. According to one published account, Lee (real name Harvey Lee Yeary), met Majors in his youth while John was a football player at UT, and they became friends. The two are not actually related, although Lee Majors could regularly be seen roaming the sidelines during John Majors' tenure at Pitt and during the early days at Tennessee.

Head coaching record

Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl 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 (Independent) (1973–1976)
1973 Pittsburgh 6-5-1 L Fiesta
1974 Pittsburgh 7-4
1975 Pittsburgh 8-4 W Sun T13 15
1976 Pittsburgh 12-0 W Sugar 1 1
Pittsburgh: 33-13-1
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 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
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: 12-32 7-21

*The first three games of the season and the 1993 Hall of Fame Bowl are credited to Phillip Fulmer.

Total: 185-137-10
      National Championship         Conference Title         Conference Division Title
#Rankings from final Coaches Poll.
°Rankings from final AP Poll.


External links

Sporting positions
Preceded by
Clay Stapleton
Iowa State Head Football Coach
Succeeded by
Earle Bruce
Preceded by
Carl DePasqua
Sal Sunseri
University of Pittsburgh Head Football Coach
Succeeded by
Jackie Sherrill
Walt Harris
Preceded by
Bill Battle
University of Tennessee Head Football Coach
Succeeded by
Phillip Fulmer
Preceded by
John McKay
Woody Hayes
Paul "Bear" Bryant Award
Succeeded by
Grant Teaff
Lou Holtz
Preceded by
Joe Paterno
Walter Camp Coach of the Year
Succeeded by
Barry Switzer


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