It was just two weeks ago on May 21st, I wrote a column wishing former Tennessee head coach Johnny Majors a happy 85th birthday. This morning I found out Coach had passed away. I was immediately saddened upon hearing the news because I respected him as much as I respected anyone I ever met. I have a lot of personal memories of Coach Majors, and I offered some of them in that previous column, and as far as the title of this column, I'll explain later.
Coach Majors was an icon, a true Tennessee hero - we all know that. He was volatile, sometimes controversial but he was once described to me by Coach Steve Spurrier as a "real ball coach." He won 116 games and lost 62 with 8 ties during his 16-year tenure as Tennessee's head coach.
He didn't leave Tennessee the way he wanted to. He never got to hand the Volunteers a national championship trophy as he did when he was coaching at Pittsburgh. Even though he won three SEC Championships at Tennessee, he never quite achieved what some Vols fans expected. He called some of those disgruntled Big Orange fans, "The Legions of the Miserable." He never let the "naysayers" get to him while coaching in Knoxville.
When he left Tennessee in 1992, I was happy that he landed his old job at Pittsburgh. I always pulled for his teams to win, though Pitt wasn't the same place as it was 17 years earlier. After he retired from coaching he stayed on at Pittsburgh in athletic administration until he decided he'd had enough and returned home to his beloved Tennessee in 2007. He was a regular attendee at Vols' practices through the years, always offering advice to young players and to coaches when he was asked.
Coach Majors loved life and having a good time. At the Peach Bowl in Atlanta in 1982, my wife Shelia and I attended a New Year's Eve event for school officials and members of the media. Coach Majors was there and after dinner he asked Shelia to dance. He told me he wanted to dance with the prettiest girl in the room so they danced. That dance with Johnny Majors thrilled her beyond words. It also thrilled her husband.
Now about "Coach, Can I Have Your Socks?" This is yet another Coach Majors story that I haven't told in a while. When he coached his final game at Tennessee against Vanderbilt in 1992, it was cold and wet. Following the game, which Tennessee won by the way, Coach Majors was in the locker room as I waited to do his final "Johnny Majors Locker Room Show" on the Vol Network. As he was getting undressed, a Volunteer fan sneaked into the locker room and stood beside me while Coach pulled off his wet socks that he had worn on the sidelines. There was a lot of emotion in Big Orange Country that weekend as many Tennessee fans didn't want to see Coach Majors leave. When I looked at the young man, tears were streaming down his face and he stepped up and asked Coach for his socks. Johnny gave the man his socks with a big smile and he walked away happy.
I would imagine somewhere today, that man pulled out his Johnny Majors socks and reminisced about that moment in the Vols' locker room. Johnny Majors meant that much to the Vol Nation and I'm sure that Vols' fans everywhere today took a moment to look at an autograph or a picture of the Tennessee icon. I know I did. Rest easy Coach.
Randy Smith can be reached at email@example.com