Majors spent final hours of life admiring Tennessee River
All-American Vol and former Tennessee head football coach Johnny Majors passed away peacefully early Wednesday morning at his home. Coach Majors was 85.
“It’s with a sad heart that we make this announcement,” said Mary Lynn Majors, his wife of 61 years. “John passed away this morning. He spent his last hours doing something he dearly loved: looking out over his cherished Tennessee River.”
Majors’ son, John Ireland Majors, recognizes that his father’s legacy extends well beyond the football field. “Dad’s passions and friendships were so diverse. He loved the symphony, travel, history and almost any type of museum.” Mary Elizabeth Majors, his daughter, added, “my dad was a strong and determined person. Our family will all try to live up to that legacy as we mourn his loss – and celebrate his life.”
A memorial service at St. John’s Cathedral will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family requested contributions to the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra or the charity of your choice.
Majors, who turned 85 on May 21, was head football coach at Iowa State (1968-1972), the University of Pittsburgh (1973-1976 and 1993-1996) and the University of Tennessee (1977-1992.) He engineered major turnarounds at all three programs, leading Iowa State to its first ever bowl game, Tennessee to three SEC titles (including its first in 16 years) and Pittsburgh to the 1976 National Championship.
As a player at the University of Tennessee (1953-1956), Majors was an All-American, runner-up for the Heisman Trophy and was twice named the Most Valuable Player in the SEC. General Neyland once referred to Majors as “the greatest single-wing tailback in Tennessee history.” He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1987.
It was as a teacher that Majors likely had his biggest influence on football. His coaching tree, thought to be the most extensive in college football history, includes 33 assistant coaches who later became head coaches in the college or professional ranks. His former assistants include future head coaches who would win multiple Super Bowls, NCAA national championships, conference championships and national coach of the year awards. Once asked about the surprising large number of his former assistants who later became head coaches, Majors explained, “I’m a teacher. My father was a teacher. That’s what coaches do: teach.”
Hall of Fame football star, Tony Dorsett, played under Majors during his time at the University of Pittsburgh. Dorsett released the following statement regarding Majors passing:
John Majors is preceded in death by his parents, Shirley and Elizabeth Majors; and two brothers, Bill Majors and Joe Majors. In addition to his wife, Mary Lynn (Barnwell) Majors, Coach Majors is survived by his two children, John and Mary; seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He is additionally survived by his sister, Shirley Ann Husband; brothers Larry and Bobby; and numerous nieces and nephews.