Today is Coach Johnny Majors 85th birthday. The man I consider to be one of the toughest men I've ever known has defied the odds ever since having by-pass heart surgery back in 1992 at the age of 57. Of course that entire 1992 season was a disaster for both Majors and the University of Tennessee. He came back too early from his surgery and was fired at the end of the year and replaced by then Offensive Coordinator Phillip Fulmer. Though Coach Majors was fired after 16 years as head coach, he remains one of the truly beloved figures in Volunteer history.
As a young lad, I was informed from the very beginning by my father that Johnny Majors was a true Tennessee hero and was a fabulous football player.
When he was runner up to Paul Hornung in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1956, I was a mere five years old. Yet, within a few years I knew exactly who Johnny Majors was. Though he was a true hero to me from an early age, I never really thought about him that much until I met him in the spring of 1977 at a golf tournament in Chattanooga. I was working at WDOD radio back then and was absolutely thrilled at being able to interview one of my heroes.
That interview was just after Coach Majors had won a national championship at Pittsburgh and was then hired to replace Bill Battle as the Vols' new head coach. Johnny was truly " marching home " to Tennessee and fans were very excited. Though his first few years in Knoxville were less than what everyone expected, he would eventually put together a 116-62-8 record at Tennessee with three SEC Championships.
Majors gave me some of the greatest quotes I ever had in my long career as a sports broadcaster and journalist. For instance, after a loss that hurt more than most, Majors replied, "My mama even burns the biscuits every now and then."
And then there is my favorite coach's quote ever. After Tennessee had dropped their first six games of the 1988 season and stood 0-6, Coach Majors replied, "We're one foot away from hell, but we're headed in the right direction." From that point on, the Vols won 16 of their next 17 games and shared the 1989 SEC Championship with an 11-1 record the following season.
In my man cave there is a picture of Coach Majors that he signed for me in 1980. It says, "To Randy, A thorough and conscientious newsman. Johnny Majors." It's still one of my most treasured bits of sports memorabilia.
Of course, there is another Johnny Majors story that I will need to clean up just a bit. After Majors had coached his final game at Tennessee in 1992, a come from behind win over Vanderbilt, I had just completed his post game interview on the Vol Network and I decided to hang around for a few minutes in the locker room and wait for Coach to come out of the shower. It was just Majors, the great Tennessean sports writer and editor John Bibb and me. Everyone else had left the locker room. As Bibb and I sat outside the shower area and chatted, Majors yelled out at us, asking," Hey.....do you know what the difference is between SEC players and Ivy League players?"
John Bibb answered, "No Coach, what is it? "
Majors replied, "Ivy League players don't pee in the shower."
Happy Birthday Coach. I love you.
Randy Smith can be reached at email@example.com