Johnny Majors, 85, Winning Coach at Pittsburgh and Tennessee, Dies

Johnny Majors, 85, Winning Coach at Pittsburgh and Tennessee, Dies

Johnny Majors, 85, Winning Coach at Pittsburgh and Tennessee, Dies

Johnny Majors, 85, Winning Coach at Pittsburgh and Tennessee, Dies

Considered too small to play in the National Football League, Majors was not selected in the draft. Instead, he spent 11 years as an assistant coach — three seasons at Tennessee, four at Mississippi State and four at Arkansas — before becoming head coach at Iowa State.

In his next job, at Pittsburgh, he inherited a team with 11 consecutive losing seasons and only one victory the year before. He quickly brought in 83 recruits, and his first team there went 6-5-1. Three years later, in 1976, with the Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett at tailback, Pittsburgh went 11-0 in the regular season, defeated Georgia in the Sugar Bowl and was voted national champion. Majors was voted coach of the year in 1973 and 1976.

Pitt has not won a national championship since then.

After his ill-fated tenure at Tennessee, Majors returned to Pittsburgh to take on another rebuilding job. This time the magic was gone. After the second game of his first season, a 63-21 loss to Virginia Tech, he walked into the media interview room and asked, “Do you have any questions?” When no one spoke up immediately, he asked, “Do you have any answers?”

In his second stint at Pittsburgh, his teams finished 3-8, 3-8, 2-9 and 4-7. In his final season, Pittsburgh lost to Ohio State by 72-0, Miami by 45-0, Syracuse by 55-7 and Notre Dame by 60-6. Majors resigned after that.

“I’d like to coach probably until I couldn’t walk,” he said on stepping down, “if I had enough good teams.”

Majors and his wife of 61 years, Mary Lynn Majors, had a son, John, and a daughter, Mary, who also survive him. “He spent his last hours doing something he dearly loved: looking out over his cherished Tennessee River,” his wife told Sports Radio WMNL in Knoxville on Wednesday. Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.

Majors received an unusual honor from a young actor (and former high school and college football player), who considered him his childhood hero. As a tribute, Harvey Lee Yeary, who would become the star of the television shows “The Six-Million Dollar Man” and “The Fall Guy,” adopted the stage name Lee Majors.

Frank Litsky, a longtime Times sportswriter, died in 2018. Alan Blinder contributed reporting.


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