Johnny Majors speaks at Little Rock Touchdown Club (Part 5)

I got to hear Johnny Majors speak at the Little Rock Touchdown Club on November 7, 2011. Here is a paragraph from his 2005 talk to the club:

Majors became the coach at Iowa State in 1968, where his assistants included Jimmy Johnson, Jackie Sherrill and Larry Lacewell.

Lacewell, who went on to coach at Arkansas State, was in the audience Monday. Majors took the opportunity to needle him a bit.

“Larry Lacewell, Jimmy Johnson and Jackie Sherrill were on my first staff up there. Man, they had all the answers,” he said with a touch of sarcasm.

Majors went to Pitt in 1973, taking over a team that had won one game the previous season and eventually winning a national title. After a 16-year stay at Tennessee, he went back to coach the Panthers, trying to resurrect the program for a second time. But he went 11-32 in his second stint and retired at the end of the 1996 season.

Larry Lacewell was also a part of Johnny Majors coaching staff at Iowa State:

Johnny Majors – Hall of Fame Class of 1999
Courtesy: Iowa State University           Release: 09/12/2006
Johnny Majors - Hall of Fame Class of 1999
View larger Courtesy: Athletics Communications
http://www.cyclones.com/
Johnny Majors – Hall of Fame Class of 1999

Johnny Majors, who was an All-American for Tennessee while finishing second to Paul Hornung in the balloting for the 1956 Heisman Trophy, was hired by Iowa State athletic director Clay Stapleton as ISU’s head coach in 1967.

 

Majors started 16 sophomores in his first season as head coach in 1968, winning three games to start his rebuilding efforts. Majors’ 1968 staff included football legends Jimmy Johnson and Jackie Sherrill.

 

The 1971 ISU football squad earned the first bowl berth in school history with an 8-4 mark. All of the Cyclones’ defeats came to ranked opponents, including No. 5 Colorado, No. 2 Oklahoma, and No. 1 Nebraska. ISU played Louisiana State in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, losing 33-15 to the No. 11 Tigers.

 

The following season, Majors’ squad returned to a bowl game. After being ranked throughout much of the season, Iowa State was invited to play in the Liberty Bowl. Georgia Tech defeated the Cyclones, 31-30. Following the Liberty Bowl, Majors announced he  accepted the head coaching job at Pittsburgh, where he captured the 1976 national championship.

FB: The Best of Johnny Majors at Iowa St

Below is an article on Larry Lacewell’s talk to the touchdown club. He mentions his time under Johnny Majors in his talk and says that was a very fun bunch of guys.

Jim Harris: Lacewell Sees Major Changes Over The Years In Defense

10/24/2011 at 3:45pm

Rex Nelson, one of the weekly presenters of the Little Rock Touchdown Club program each week, rattled off a series of state college football scores that sounded more suitable for a basketball result. Around the country the past few years, it’s nothing to see 50 or more points put up by offenses in a game — sometimes by both teams. This isn’t your dad’s or grandad’s colllege football anymore, at least not on the defensive side.

Larry Lacewell, one of the preeminent defensive minds as a coordinator at Oklahoma during the Sooners’ 1970s heyday and at Tennessee during back-to-back Southeastern Conference title runs in the early 1990s, has noticed the difference from the way defenses are playing now to how it was when he was roaming the sidelines.

“It’s a combination of things,” Lacewell said. “I think maybe the passing game has evolved so well because these high school kids get this seven-on-seven, as I understand it, these camps in the summertime and throwing the football. Also, I don’t think any of these kids want to be cornerbacks anymore. I don’t. I think these 6-foot-2, -3 guys, they all want to be receivers. I’ve never seen so many tall good receivers and I think that has something to do with it.

“And I think that AAU basketball has taken over in your large cities so much that these kids that are in the sixth grade, seventh grade, that are 6-2, 6-3 that go on up to 6-4 and 6-5, they don’t play football. They play basketball. So I think you lose a group of people there.

“Having said all that, maybe they just don’t have great defensive coaches like I was.”

That’s Lacewell, ever the sardonic, ego-driven guy who draws a lot of laughs when he speaks. He can blend enough seriousness to keep you spellbound, then lay it on thick reminding you (almost) tongue in cheek that he was pretty good at what he did.

The former Fordyce Chigger junior high runt who reached the pinnacle of football as a player personnel director with the Dallas Cowboys during their 1990s Super Bowl runs entertained a large Embassy Suites ballroom crowd Monday at the Little Rock Touchdown Club. It was his first trip back in more than four years to speak with the club.

“I talked about Arkansas playing Arkansas State for 30 minutes the last time and y’all wouldn’t have me back,” he half-joked.

Remembering what an old Fordyce acquaintance said years ago, he said he wouldn’t go there again, at least not in depth. “Don’t step in a cow patty on a hot day.”

Lacewell’s appearance brought out some other fabled Arkansas-connected coaches of the past, including Forrest City’s Bill Shimek, who was an assistant coach and a top recruiter at both Okahoma and Oklahoma State. Bill Atkinson, a top Fordyce athlete of the past, was on hand. Lacewell went back and forth as to who really was the better star from Fordyce. “Bill was the high school valedictorian. I passed my classes.”

Lacewell went through his career, which is a pretty amazing one considering his roots. No one in his family had gone to college, his father had died when Lacewell was very young. Yet, at only about 5-foot-6, Lacewell became a pretty good Redbug and earned a spot at then Arkansas A&M in Monticello playing for Jimmy “Red” Parker. It set him off on a coaching career that took him to the top of both college and pro football.

Along the way, he worked for Bear Bryant, Chuck Fairbanks, Barry Switzer, Johnny Majors and Jerry Jones. He worked side-by-side with the likes of Switzer, Jimmy Johnson and Jackie Sherrill. He was a success as a head coach leading Arkansas State to its best run of success, during the 1980s, when the program was a Division I-AA team.

It’s been as though Lacewell was a college football version of Forrest Gump, only a heckuva lot keener. He was everywhere a championship program was being formed.

He made sure to show off his replica Super Bowl trophies, three of them, as well as his cluster of championship rings accumulated over the years. Many of those were obtained back-to-back, which like good defense these days is almost unheard of.

Arkansas’ defense hasn’t awakened for nearly a half in its last three games, all wins that the Hogs managed to pull out with second-half offense. Lacewell saw the Arkansas-Ole Miss game on Saturday in person in Oxford. He says he’s a big fan of Bobby Petrino and the Razorbacks, but he’s like the rest of us in trying to figure out why the Hogs’ defense starts so slowly.

“Well, it’s kinda strange performances,” Lacewell said in assessing the UA defense. “I don’t know what it is, but fortunately they play well in the second half of every game. I don’t know enough about what happens in that situation, but maybe they thought the game was at 1 o’clock. They play awfully well in the second half.”

Meanwhile, the soon-to-turn-75 Lacewell lives at Jonesboro and watches as the ASU program soars this year under first-year head coach Hugh Freeze. ASU is 5-2 and 3-0 in the Sun Belt Conference after a nationally televised 34-16 win over Florida International.

“It’s the best team that’s been up there in a long, long time,” he told a gathering of media after the luncheon. “They’ve got an awful good quarterback [Ryan Aplin]. When you’ve got a quarterback — anywhere and particularly at that level — you’re going to play pretty good. And I think [Dave] Wommack, he’s an experienced old defensive coordinator and he knows how to call ’em. And it’s obvious to me [Hugh] Freeze knows what he’s doing. He’s the offensive guru. They get in situations … they had a tight, tight ball game the other night and they turned that thing around in the second half. I think that’s coaching. I think there’s a whole lot of good coaching going up on there.”

Freeze has captured Lacewell’s attention along with the rest of Jonesboro and the ASU fan base.

“Whatever IT is, he’s got IT,” Lacewell said. “Somebody said he’s the best BS’er since me. He’s a movie star, he can talk. But he can flat coach. I like the way he handles his players, I like the way he’s handling the public. I think it’s a great, great hire for Arkansas State.”

Championships, Lacewell argues, will still come down to the “same ol’ things” in this age of prolific, explosive passing offenses — and that’s good defense, the kind his Oklahoma Sooners played in winning the 1974-75 titles.

“I do know Alabama and LSU are sitting on top and they are two great defensive teams,” Lacewell said. “The great thing about defense is, if you’re great on defense you don’t hardly have a bad day. You can catch a windy day throwing the ball, a wet ball, but the great defensive teams, they’re going to survive those things.”

Award-winning columnist Jim Harris wasn’t around when Hugo Bezdek named the Razorbacks, it only seems that way. His acumen for UA football history is renowned and he has covered the Hogs and the state sports scene since 1976. He knows his way around music and food, too. Email: jharris@abpg.com, and follow Jim on Twitter @jimharris360

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