Former Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Iowa State HC Johnny Majors Dies at Age 85

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistJune 3, 2020

Former Tennessee head football coach Johnny Majors waves to fans as he and members of the 1998 football team are introduced in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State, Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Wade Payne/Associated Press

College Football Hall of Famer Johnny Majors died Wednesday at age 85.

His wife, Mary Lynn Majors, released a statement on behalf of the family.

"It's with a sad heart that we make this announcement," she said. "John passed away this morning. He spent his last hours doing something he dearly loved: looking out over his cherished Tennessee River."

Majors served as head coach at Iowa State, Pittsburgh and Tennessee as part of a coaching career that spanned four decades from 1957 through 1996.

The Tennessee native was an All-American halfback for the Volunteers and was named the SEC Player of the Year in both 1955 and 1956.

He spent one year playing professionally with the CFL's Montreal Alouettes before turning his focus to coaching, a journey that began as a graduate assistant with the Vols in 1957.

Majors' first head coaching opportunity came at Iowa State in 1968. He guided the Cyclones to two bowl appearances across five seasons before heading to Pitt in 1973.

The highlight of his coaching career came in 1976, when he led the Panthers to a 12-0 record and the program's first national title since 1937. It remains Pittsburgh's most recent championship.

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In 2014, Majors told Mike Griffith of MLive.com that Pitt could still be a title-contending school if given the right level of commitment.

"It's definitely a destination job, and I think it's a job you can win the championship at, without question," he said. "If you have a strong, supportive, loyal president that wants to win at football as well as academics, and a strong A.D. that's loyal and will support you, you can win championships at a place like Pitt."

Majors returned to his alma mater as head coach in 1977. He spent the next 16 seasons with the Vols before going back to Pitt to conclude his career with a second four-year stint.

In all, the 1973 Walter Camp Coach of the Year posted a 185-137-10 record across 29 years as a collegiate head coach. His teams went 9-7 in bowl games and finished inside the Top 15 of the final Associated Press poll on eight occasions.

Majors also spent time at Mississippi State and Arkansas as an assistant. He was inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame as part of its 1987 class.