Johnny Majors to speak at Little Rock Touchdown Club: What is connection to Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long?

Former Tennessee Football Coach Johnny Majors is to speak at Little Rock Touchdown Club todayat the Embassy Suites hotel. Majors coached at Iowa State from 1968-1972, Pittsburgh from 1973-1976 and 1993-1996, where he led the Panthers to the 1976 national championship and at Tennessee from 1977-1992, where he won three SEC championships.

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1976 Sugar Bowl National Championship – Pitt vs. Georgia

Did you know that Jeff Long and Johnny Majors have a close connection? Below is a story from the June 12, 2007 edition of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:

Johnny Majors returning to his home again — in Tennessee
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
By Shelly Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It was 1972. President Nixon made historic trips to Beijing and Moscow. The Oakland A’s made a splashy trip to the World Series.

And a man named Joe Mason (wink) made a little fact-finding trip to Pittsburgh.


Post-Gazette archives
Johnny Majors Former Pitt coach

Except that it was really Joe Majors, brother and confidant of Johnny Majors, an up-and-coming college football coach who was skeptical about pursuing a job with the University of Pittsburgh in a big city.”I would have never come to Pittsburgh if not for Joe,” Johnny Majors said yesterday. “He came in and scouted the area first. He said, ‘John, they’re ready to make a move. The drive from the airport to downtown Pittsburgh in November is not very exciting, but it’s the job for you. They want to get things done, and you’re the guy who can get it done.’ ”

So Majors, who always had preferred small college towns, interviewed with Pitt, took the job and in four seasons guided the Panthers to the 1976 national championship, recruiting Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett along the way.

For Majors, Pittsburgh was love at first fortnight.

“I came here two weeks and I felt at home,” he said. “It was the easiest adjustment I’ve ever made.”

It’s a feeling that persisted, even when he left after that title season to return to his home state of Tennessee and coach at his alma mater, even when he came back to Pitt in 1993 for four rough seasons, and especially in the past decade while remaining in Pittsburgh and on the Pitt athletic staff.

Now, though, Majors and his wife, Mary Lynn, are going home once more.

In the past couple of weeks, they closed on a sale of their Oakland house — the one they bought from Pitt, the one with a wonderfully landscaped corner lot — and found a place in Knoxville, Tenn.

They’ll make the move before the end of July.

This uprooting is all about family.

Joe is gone. He died in January after a battle with cancer and heart problems. But Majors has a sister, Shirley Ann, and a brother, Bob, in Chattanooga and another brother, Larry, near Sewanee.

The Majors’ son, John Ireland Majors, and daughter, Shirley Ann, are in Tennessee, along with seven grandchildren, including Brandon, 20, who is in junior college after being raised in Pittsburgh by Johnny and Mary Lynn.

This is not about giving up on life.

“I’m in the fourth quarter of my life. I’m not ready to make the final play yet,” said Majors, 72, a Heisman Trophy finalist in 1956 and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

Although the move makes sense to him, it has caused a great deal of internal conflict.

“People say, ‘Why are you leaving?’ Well, I wonder myself sometimes. I’ve wondered a lot about it,” he said. “Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania are uniquely special. I have so many friends here, I’m talking about really, really great friends. And such a diverse group.”

Majors and his wife are determined to maintain strong ties here. They are considering renting a place so they can make frequent visits for football and basketball games and other events.

He will have to give up his seat on the Pittsburgh Symphony Board, but they’re keeping their symphony tickets. He’ll keep in touch with friends at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association and the Pittsburgh Field Club and with those at Calvary Episcopal Church. Mary Lynn no doubt will remain tight with those at the Garden Club of Allegheny County, where she served as president until about six months ago.

And, of course, Pitt will always be close to Majors’ heart.

“The University of Pittsburgh has been great to me twice,” said Majors, who has been a special assistant to the athletic director and chancellor since his coaching career ended after the 1996 season.

“I’m very appreciative and indebted to the University of Pittsburgh. I told [athletic director] Jeff Long, ‘I’m at your beck and call. I’ll do anything I can because this is a great school and a great town.’ ”

That includes what Majors has done best for the athletic department in recent years — shake hands, share a round of golf over some great storytelling and spread goodwill about Pitt.

Some might find it curious that Majors is returning to Knoxville after his bitter departure from Tennessee in 1992 following what many considered a coup by Phil Fulmer, one of his assistants. For several years after he returned to Pitt, Majors was reluctant to utter the word, “Tennessee,” instead calling it “the place I used to work.”

Those feelings have faded. Not that he’s necessarily going to hang around the Volunteers.

“I’m going to play that by ear,” Majors said. “I can say this: The athletic director [Mike Hamilton] wasn’t there when I was there, and he’s been very pleasant to me. I have some friends who still work at the university. I don’t have any animosity.”

Nor does Majors bemoan the state of the Panthers’ football program in the 1990s, when budgetary and other commitments at Pitt Stadium were lacking and he went 12-32.

“I can say I was not at my best,” he said. “But I’ve always said I felt like we — our staff, our families — could be remembered for leaving a program in better shape when we left than when we came, and they were able to go to a bowl game the year after we left.”

Certainly, Pitt was infinitely better, a national powerhouse, when Majors left the first time in the 1970s.

“The first four years I was here, I never had a more exciting time in my life,” Majors said. “They called when I needed them. I needed that opportunity.”

And now he needs to go home.

First published on June 11, 2007 at 11:22 pm
Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.
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