Jimmy’s blog: Majors had diverse interests that included more than football

By Jimmy Hyams

The notebook.

John Majors carried that notebook in his back pocket like we carry our cell phones.

During a football drill at practice, he would pull it out and jot down a reminder.

During a scrimmage, he would enter a route run poorly or a quarterback decision he wanted to revisit.

If a reporter asked him a question he didn’t know the answer to, out came the notepad.

He would make a note to himself and, without fail, get back to the reporter.

How many coaches today would do that?

Majors understood the media as well as any coach I’ve covered.

Majors was meticulous when it came to detail. That’s what made him a great player and a great coach. The fact that he played both ways in high school and college only contributed to his overall knowledge of the game.

He was a teacher, a historian. He liked the symphony. He liked to travel. He liked to read.

But it was his playing and coaching at Tennessee that made the Majors name synonymous with Tennessee football.

Majors died early Wednesday morning of heart failure after suffering a stroke last year.

He was 85.

He will be sorely missed by the Vol Nation.

Majors had diverse interests that made him unique and interesting.

He also had a great sense of humor.

I remember the time that Majors got into an argument with former Tennessee Sports Information Director Gus Manning over Majors not winning the Heisman Trophy in 1956.

Majors lost to Paul Horning of Notre Dame, the only player from a losing team – the Irish were 2-8 – to win the award.

In later years, Majors accused Hornung of buying mint juleps for Manning at the Kentucky Derby.

“I can’t believe you let a guy with a losing record beat me out for the Heisman Trophy,’’ Majors told Manning. “What kind of SID were you?’’

“I had to work like hell to get you second,’’ Manning responded.

Majors could dish out a barb, but he could take one as well.

In 1997, Majors was critical of the Tennessee coaching staff for not starting Jamal Lewis, a gifted running back, against Florida.

That led to a colorful exchange with the late great Bobby Denton, former public address announcer at Neyland Stadium.

“I know a dumb (butt) coach that didn’t start Lewis against Florida,’’ Majors said.

Denton fired back: “I know a dumb (butt) coach that redshirted Chuck Webb and Carl Pickens.’’


After Majors was fired by Tennessee’s during the 1992 season, he took a job trying to rebuild Pitt for the second time.

I flew to Pittsburgh to do a feature on Majors.

Majors had to delay one interview to attend an auction.

I asked if Majors won any auction items. He had. He bid a substantial amount to get gas for a year in his company vehicle.

But Majors seemed upset that he won the bid.

I asked why?

“I found out the University provides me free gas for a year,’’ Majors said. “I just wasted a bunch of money.’’

In more recent times, there was the incident in which Majors, visiting the Tennessee football offices, parked illegally on campus on John Majors Blvd.

UT police unwittingly gave Majors a ticket.

The irony: Majors getting a ticket on a street named after him on UT’s campus.

The ticket was disposed.

Majors was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1987.

He should have also been inducted as a coach. He did a wonderful job rebuilding Iowa State and Pitt, then Tennessee. Iowa State and Pitt were atrocious when Majors arrived, yet he led the Hawkeyes to a bowl game and won a national title at Pitt in 1976.

It took him longer to rebuild Tennessee, but he won SEC titles in 1985, 1989 and 1990.

In my 40-plus years of being in the media, I can’t think of a coach I enjoyed covering more than Majors.

He was honest, open, funny, and a bit mischievous.

He was a regular guest on SportsTalk, WNML Radio during football season for about four years. His memory was remarkable. His wit keen. His story telling superb.

We kept in touch through the years.

Our last conversation was last month.

I called to say hello on May 21. I didn’t know it was his birthday.

He had just turned 85.

“I didn’t think I’d live to be 60,’’ he said.

At the end of the conversation, he said he wanted to treat me to lunch, once the virus cleared up.

He made me promise not to forget, to call him in a couple of weeks.

I’m sorry I won’t get to have that lunch with Coach Majors.

I lost a friend.

Tennessee lost a treasure.

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