Jimmy’s blog: Legend John Majors passes away at 85

By Jimmy Hyams

Tennessee legend and Hall of Fame coach John Majors passed away early Wednesday morning. He was 85.

Coach Majors was a terrific player who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987. He also rebuilt three programs and deserved to be in the Hall of Fame as a coach as well.

I happened to call Coach Majors on May 21 — his 85th birthday.

We had a great talk, and he made me promise to call him for a lunch date after the virus cleared up.

I enjoyed covering Coach Majors as much as any coach. He was honest, a great story teller, and he had, well, pizzazz.

Below is a statement from the majors’ family.


Family, friends mourn loss of coach and teacher

KNOXVILLE, TENN., June 3, 2020 – John Terrill Majors passed away peacefully at his Knoxville home early this morning. He was 85 years old.

“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, please consider 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.”

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.




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