RTI contributor Noah Taylor is the author of this article
Johnny Majors was part of a rare college football fraternity who made an impact at the same school as both a player and a head coach.
Majors passed away on Wednesday at the age of 85, leaving behind an illustrious career at three different schools, including Tennessee and Pittsburgh.
While Majors, a Lynchburg, TN native, won a national title at Pitt in 1976, it was his time in Knoxville that folks in Tennessee remember most. Majors played for the Vols from 1953-56 and was a Heisman finalist in 1956, losing out to Notre Dame’s Paul Hornug, who remains the only player in college football history to be awarded the game’s most prestigious individual honor while playing for a losing team.
While the Heisman trophy would have been a nice consolation prize, missing out on it did nothing to diminish Majors’ playing career at Tennessee where he earned All-American status in 1956 and was twice named the SEC’s Most Valuable Player in 1955 and 1956.
Majors got his first head coaching job at Iowa State in 1968 after bouncing around as an assistant coach at Tennessee, Mississippi State, and Arkansas. Majors was with the Cyclones for five seasons before taking the job at Pittsburgh in 1973.
Majors’ four-year stint with the Panthers included a national championship in 1976 as well as a Heisman Trophy winner, which was won by running back Tony Dorsett that same season.
But home came calling and in 1977. Majors replaced Bill Battle as head coach at Tennessee after winning the national title with Pitt, taking over a UT program on the decline.
Majors wasn’t able to capture a national championship at his Alma Mater, but he did come close in 1989 with an 11-1 overall record and an SEC title. Despite that, Majors had no shortage of memorable wins at Tennessee, including wins over the likes of Bear Bryant and Lou Holtz.
It would be hard to write about those wins in so many words, but a few stick out more than others. Here’s a look at the three wins that most defined the Johnny Majors era at Tennessee.