Former Tennessee football coach Johnny Majors is still listed in stable condition at the UT Medical Center in Knoxville after undergoing a heart valve procedure last Thursday. In a statement released earlier this week Majors said, “Under the circumstances, I feel very good. I appreciate the support of friends and family and also supporters of mine from Tennessee and other parts of the country.”
Majors, who is 78 years old, was a runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 1956 while at Tennessee, and coached the Vols’ football team from 1977-1992. He won a national championship at Pittsburgh in 1976, and coached there again after being forced out at Tennessee in 1992. All Tennessee fans know about Johnny Majors, and the reasons he was let go at his alma mater in 1992. Since that “water under the bridge” long ago floated away, I prefer to write about something else today; Coach Major’s immense toughness.
To say that Johnny Majors is one of the toughest men I ever met or had the privilege to work with is an understatement. Since I was only five years old when he graduated from Tennessee, I can’t really remember much about him as a player, but my father told me stories about how good and shifty he was as a single-wing tailback. When he came marching home from Pittsburgh after winning the national title, I was as excited as anyone, and when I first met Coach Majors, I was absolutely thrilled.
We became friends and, when he was forced out in 1992, I went through a really tough time. Even though I really loved him, I also thought a lot of his replacement Phillip Fulmer. I knew it was probably time for him to go, though I thought it could have been handled better. (In much the same way that Coach Fulmer was forced to leave in 2008). After being fired, Coach Majors showed again how tough he was, though that toughness very likely made his departure much more unpleasant than it should have been.
That toughness also came through in several quotes he gave the media in his career at Tennessee. Like, following a tough loss for the Volunteers (a game they shouldn’t have lost) Majors said, “Even my mama burns the biscuits every now and then.”
Then there was the 1988 season; the one that saw Tennessee start the year 0-6. After that sixth straight loss to open the season, Majors was surprisingly calm and collected in his post-game interviews, when he gave us one of my all-time favorite quotes. He said, “We’re one foot away from hell….but we’re headed in the right direction.” That proclamation was absolutely true as the Vols closed the 1988 season with five straight wins to finish 5-6. In 1989, they wound up 11-1 with a win over Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl and claimed a top four national ranking. He was right; they were headed in the right direction.
Perhaps the biggest regret I have considering Johnny Majors is the fact that he and Coach Fulmer have never ironed out their differences. Coach Majors still blames Fulmer for being replaced, though after talking with many people in Knoxville, those claims are baseless. I wish those two men could get together and laugh and talk about the “good times” surrounding Tennessee football, putting any of those differences behind them. That seems to be a real problem for Majors, simply because of his very tough, hard-nosed nature.
Today I want Coach Majors to know that I love him and wish him the very best. He was and still is one of my true heroes.
Randy Smith has been covering sports on radio, television and print for the past 45 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has written two books, and has continued to free-lance as a play-by-play announcer. He is currently teaching Broadcasting at Coahulla Creek High School near Dalton, Ga.
His career has included a 17-year stretch as host of the Kickoff Call In Show on the University of Tennessee’s prestigious Vol Network. He has been a member of the Vol Network staff for thirty years.
He has done play-by-play on ESPN, ESPN II, CSS, and Fox SportSouth, totaling more than 500 games, and served as a well-known sports anchor on Chattanooga Television for more than a quarter-century.
In 2003, he became the first television broadcaster to be inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame. Randy and his wife Shelia reside in Hixson. They have two married children, (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith.) They have three grandchildren, Coleman, Boone and DellaMae.
To contact Randy: firstname.lastname@example.org