HomeGrown: Coach Johnny Majors

10:36 PM, Feb 28, 2012   |    comments
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Long before he paced the sidelines or wore the orange jersey, Johnny Majors was simply a small town boy who loved the game.

"I certainly can't remember when I didn't love football. I've always loved football."

That love seemed to be hereditary.

"My dad was a tremendous athlete."

And, with little to do in Lynchburg or neighboring Huntland, Majors and his five younger siblings all turned to sports.

"My dad was head football, basketball and baseball coach, so we all played three sports for our father who was head coach. We were 30-and-one my three years in high school."

Majors not only lead the Huntland Hornets, but also the entire state in scoring.

"I had a chance to go to West Point, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Georgia and Florida. They all offered me a scholarship."

It came down to Auburn and Tennessee.

"My mother said, 'John, I know you're having a hard time about your decision. If you're having that hard of time, I'd like to see you stay close to home. She didn't mention Tennessee, but I knew what she was talking about."

Majors was Tennessee bound.

"Dropped me off right at the stadium."

At Tennessee, Majors played both sides of the ball.

"I was one of the last people who played 60 minutes at Tennessee."

In 1956, as an All American, he came up short in the race for Heisman.

"It was the closest voting in history. I lost to Paul Hornung, a great football player at Notre Dame."

After graduation, Majors had no desire to follow in his dad's coaching footsteps. He wanted to play professionally..

"Montreal offered me a $10,000 salary with a $1000 dollar bonus."

Majors signed with the Canadian Football League before the NFL draft.

"I will never know where I would've been drafted."

He then came back to Tennessee as a student coach and he met his wife, Mary Lynn Barnwell.

"She's the only girl I ever went steady with."

They married and moved to Mississippi State and then Arkansas for assistant coaching jobs.

"Then, I became the youngest head coach in major college football in 1968 at Iowa State University. We survived there. They called it a coach's graveyard."

His luck changed in 1976 as head coach at the University of Pittsburgh.

"We had a great back-end by the name of Tony Dorsett. That was one of the greatest football teams in college football history."

And then, his alma mater called.

"And the timing could not have been worse for me because that was the apex of your career when you're number one in the country."

But he couldn't turn down Tennessee. Returning to Neyland Stadium, majors experienced the highest of highs.

"Stopping the Alabama win streak in 1982 when we beat them 35 to 28 at Neyland Stadium."

The Sugar Vols in '85.

"The Sugar Bowl was one of the greatest games in my entire life as a coach. And, that team was extremely special because they overcame a lot of adversity."

That famous come from behind victory against the Irish ranks pretty high, too.

"Notre Dame in 1991 after being down 31 to seven... and beating them 35 to 34. That's the biggest comeback I think in Tennessee history."

In '92, Majors had heart surgery. Then assistant, Phil Fulmer, stepped in as interim coach and never stepped out.

"It was a stealth deal if I ever saw it. We left a championship football program at Tennessee when I was forced out of here after the most successful three years of my entire life."

The University of Pittsburgh came to his rescue.

"That was one of the best things that could happen to me because I've always loved Pittsburgh."

He retired as Pittsburgh's Head Coach in 1996.

"I thought it was time for someone else to do the job."

Now, family has brought him back to Knoxville to stay.

"I like a lot about the University of Tennessee and I'm feeling good about being back here now."

That was evident last season, when Majors surprised the Vol faithful wearing what else, Tennessee orange.

"I'm the first person that used orange pants. I had a great time that night."

Johnny Majors,

"I'm a Southern, Middle Tennessee boy."

Born in Lynchburg.

"It's where my roots are."

HomeGrown in Tennessee.

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