College football legend Johnny Majors dies at age 85

Johnny Majors, a college football legend as both a player and coach, has died.

Majors, a Tennessee native, was a star tailback at the University of Tennessee before going on to an illustrious run as head coach at Iowa State, Pittsburgh and his alma mater. The College Football Hall of Famer died Wednesday morning, his wife of 61 years, Mary Lynn Majors, said in a statement to WNML.

“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.”

Before posting a career 185-137-10 record as a head coach, Majors played at Tennessee from 1953-56, earning All-America honors and finishing second to Paul Hornung in Heisman Trophy voting in 1956. He also was named the Southeastern Conference’s Most Valuable Player as both a junior and senior.

Following a brief professional career, Majors entered the world of coaching. He first worked as an assistant at Tennessee before moving on to Mississippi State and Arkansas, also in assistant roles. From there, he would land his first head-coaching job at Iowa State, where he spent five seasons and brought the Cyclones to their first bowl game appearances in 1971 and 1972.

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)
Longtime Tennessee head football coach Johnny Majors died on Wednesday morning at age 85. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

“Johnny Majors is one of college football’s all-time greatest coaches,” Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell said. “Johnny came back every year and it was a pleasure for our players to get to know him and understand his legacy at Iowa State. He was one of the most important figures in Iowa State football history.”

Majors then moved on to a four-year stint at Pitt that culminated in a perfect 12-0 record and national championship in 1976. The ’76 Panthers were led by star running back Tony Dorsett, who rushed for 2,150 yards and 22 touchdowns and won the Heisman.

After he won the national title at Pitt, Majors returned to his beloved Tennessee. He would coach the Vols from 1977-92, amassing a 116-62-8 record with three SEC titles, three top 10 finishes and a 7-4 record in bowl games. A street on Tennessee’s campus in Knoxville is named Johnny Majors Drive in his honor.

Majors and UT parted ways in 1992, leading to one last stint at Pitt. He coached the Panthers for four more seasons before deciding to retire in 1996 from coaching. Majors stayed at Pitt, working as a special assistant to the athletic director until 2007.

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