Phillip Fulmer and Johnny Majors may have had a rocky relationship after Fulmer replaced Majors as head coach in 1992, but the two appeared to try and put their differences aside over the last few years. Now, Majors has passed away, and Fulmer is left without his former instructor.
Majors passed away on Wednesday at the age of 85. The former Tennessee player and head coach had been involved with UT football for decades and still stayed around campus when he could. Now, his presence will be missed by all those at the University of Tennessee, and that includes Fulmer.
Fulmer served as an assistant coach under Majors from 1980 through part of the 1992 season. Fulmer took over as Tennessee’s head coach after Majors was let go following the conclusion of the 1992 regular season, and the two combined to coach Tennessee from 1977 through 2008, amassing five SEC titles, a national championship, and 268 wins in the process.
On Wednesday afternoon, Fulmer said the passing of the legendary coach is a “sad day” for Tennessee athletics.
“It’s a sad day. He gave many of us coaches our start in big-time college football,” Fulmer, now Tennessee’s Athletics Director, said in a statement. “He mentored us, pushed us, and allowed us to be part of the proud resurgence of Tennessee football. He touched and changed many lives for the good, and our thoughts are with his family, former players, and great fans who are remembering him today.”
Fulmer served as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator in the early 1990s and filled in for Majors as UT’s interim head coach for the first three games of the 1992 season after Majors had heart surgery. Tennessee started the season 3-0, and Majors returned after the Vols’ 31-14 victory over No. 4 Florida. After defeating Cincinnati and LSU, Tennessee lost three-straight games before finishing the regular season with wins against Memphis State, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt.
Majors resigned at the end of the regular season after Tennessee didn’t honor the remainder of his contract, and Fulmer took over for Tennessee’s bowl game, a 38-23 victory over Boston College in the Hall of Fame Bowl.
For years, Majors made it clear that he believed there was some sort of behind-the-scenes subterfuge that led Fulmer to taking over, but the two appeared to publicly be patching things over throughout the last few years.
Majors was named the SEC Player of the Year in consecutive years as a player for Tennessee in 1955 and 1956, and he finished in second place in the Heisman Trophy ballot in 1956. As a coach, Majors took over a struggling Tennessee program and led them back to greatness. After winning a national title with Pittsburgh in 1976, Majors came back to his home of Tennessee to lead the Vols as head coach.
The Vols suffered in the final few years of the Bill Battle era, and Majors’ first few seasons at the helm weren’t easy. Majors’ first season saw Tennessee finish 4-7 and just 1-5 in SEC play, and the Vols went jut 5-5-1 the following season. But by 1983, Majors had Tennessee back in the national spotlight with a 9-3 mark and a victory in the Citrus Bowl. After that, Majors led the Vols to three SEC championships and two Sugar Bowl victories, most notably Tennessee’s stunning 35-7 defeat of No. 2 Miami in the Sugar Bowl to end the 1985 season.
Tennessee went 116-62-8 under Majors, and they appeared in 12 bowl games during his 15-plus years as head coach. He and his staffs produced 15 All-Americans at Tennessee, notably coaching players such as Reggie White, Willie Gault, Anthony Hancock, Chuck Webb, Reggie Cobb, Carl Pickens, and Dale Carter among many others. Majors also had a large number of his assistant coaches go on to be head coaches, not just Fulmer. David Cutcliffe, Jon Gruden, Jimmy Johnson, Jackie Sherrill, and Dom Capers are just some of the many coaches who served under Majors and went on to be head coaches in college or the NFL.