Legendary Pitt football coach Johnny Majors has died at the age of 85 in his home of Knoxville, Tennessee.
Majors was a Tennessee native, growing up in Franklin County, Tennessee, where he began his football life as a running back. Majors matriculated to the University of Tennessee, where he was an All-American tailback and was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 1956. He was a two-time SEC MVP in 1955 and 1956
He first came to Pitt in 1973 and began the golden age of Pitt football, recruiting at least 60 players in his first full class to take advantage of a loosened scholarship policy. His first class included eventual Heisman Trophy running back Tony Dorsett from Hopewell High School.
In four seasons in Oakland, Majors amassed a 33-13-1 record. In 1976, the team led by Dorsett and quarterback Matt Cavanaugh went 12-0, winning Pitt’s first National Championship since 1937.
— Pitt Football (@Pitt_FB) June 3, 2020
In his Pitt tenure, Majors was named college football’s coach of the year three times, by the Walter Camp Foundation in 1973 and the AFCA and Sporting News in 1976.
“He had a great ability to make people feel like they’d known him forever the first time they met,” Majors assistant and successor as Pitt head coach Jackie Sherrill said to the Tribune-Review in 2006. “It’s a trait that really separated Coach from 99.9 percent of the coaches out there.”
After the 1976 season, Majors returned to his alma mater Tennessee, where he coached for 16 more seasons, leading the Volunteers to three first-place finishes in the SEC and wins in the Citrus, Cotton, Liberty, Peach and Sugar Bowls.
Using the foundation of Majors’ success, Sherrill was able to continue Pitt’s strong run of play, going 50-9-1 before leaving the program himself in 1982.
Majors returned to Pitt for a less-successful second stint, going 12-32 from 1993-96, evening his career Pitt record at 45-45-1. After retiring as head coach in 1996, Majors continued to serve as a special assistant athletic director at Pitt until 2007.