VolQuest - Former players remember their coach Johnny Majors
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Former players remember their coach Johnny Majors

Tennessee, the SEC and college football has lost one of it’s greats.

Former Vol captain, all-American and championship coach John T. Majors has passed away at the age of 85.

No one was more orange then Majors. The Lynchburg, Tennessee native arrived in Knoxville in 1953, after he starred as a halfback for Huntland High. That All-American was runner-up to Paul Hourning for the Heisman Trophy in 1956.

In 1957, Majors begin his coaching career as a graduate assistant for the Vols. Majors became the head coach at Iowa State in 1968. In 1973, Majors moved to Pitt where he found great success landing Hall of Fame member Tony Dorsett and in 1976, Majors and the Panthers won the national title.

In 1977, Johnny came marching home to lead his beloved Vols. Facing a major rebuild, Majors returned the Vols to a national power winning SEC Championships in 1986, 89 and 1990.

With his signature sideline suits, claps, and catch phrases Majors was an iconic figure in not just Tennessee football but in college football.

“Obviously, it’s the overused term but he was a giant,” said Charles Davis a member of the beloved 1985 SugarVols. “The history of SEC football can’t be written without Johnny Majors as a player, coach. He won at everything he ever did.

“For me I will remember different moments on and off the field. We had conversations about different things that I have and will use for the rest of my life. The influence he had on your life last with your forever. There’s never been a day in my life after playing for him that I didn’t think about him. It’s a great loss and a sad day for all of us.”


Majors was a winner, who loved to develop young men and loved the game that to his own admission changed his life. James Berry was a captain for Majors and like Davis said his coach was much more than a football coach.


“He means a lot,” Berry said. “He recruited me all the way back in 1978 and he was a straight up and straight forward man. He told me he would treat me fair and he always did. He taught me so much but most of all he taught me hard work pays off. And he taught me how to be tough. He was a father figure more than anything. Johnny Majors was a good man. I’m saddened we lost someone like him. I’m pretty sure he touched hearts of countless young men.”


Pat Ryan was on Majors’ first Vol team in 1977.


“My senior year was his first year back at Tennessee,” Ryan said. “They coached us hard and we weren’t any good. We didn’t have any football players. To this day and even the last time I saw him, he was apologizing for how hard they had been on us that year. I simply said that’s football and that was him establishing his culture. It’s just sad. It really is. He was the best.”



Majors personality was one bigger than life. Opinionated and stern. Funny and could own a room as well as anyone. Something Ryan was reminded of just a couple of months ago.


“I ran into him at Long’s Drug Store a couple of months ago and as you can imagine it turned into an hour, Ryan said. “There was nobody like him. There won’t ever be anyone else like him. He was his own man and he loved everyone. He loved Tennessee. He had more stories and remembered everything to this day. His mind was sharp and he would recall high school coaches and kids he had recruited. It just makes me realize how special that time was with him.”