College football lost one of its greats with the passing of Johnny Majors. The coach and former star running back at Tennessee influenced more than 25 college or professional head football coaches during his career.
Majors also was one of the few coaches left who had played for his alma mater and then returned to coach for an extended period, but his success extends beyond Tennessee. Here are the 10 greatest moments of his football life.
1. Two-time SEC MVP (1956)
Majors was a triple-threat in Tennessee's single-wing attack and was named SEC MVP in 1955 and '56. The Volunteers also went 10-0 in the 1956 regular season before losing to Baylor in the Sugar Bowl and Majors finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting behind Notre Dame quarterback Paul Hornung. A sore spot amongst Tennessee fans is that the Irish went 2-8 that year, but when asked who deserved the Heisman, Majors later said it should have gone to Syracuse running back Jim Brown, who finished fifth.
2. Arkansas' national championship (1964)
After playing one season with the CFL's Montreal Alouettes, Majors went into coaching and was hired by Arkansas head coach Frank Broyles in 1964. Working on a staff that included future head coaches Barry Switzer, Jim Mackenzie and Bill Pace, Majors coached the defensive backs as Arkansas recorded five straight shutouts and a perfect season. The Razorbacks shared the national title with Alabama, but were the only team with a perfect record.
3. First bowl game in Iowa State history (1971)
Majors become the head coach of Iowa State in 1968 and inherited a program that only had 13 winning seasons in the last 50 years and had never been to a bowl game. The Cyclones steadily improved in his first three seasons and went 8-4 in 1971, earning a berth in the Sun Bowl. Majors led Iowa State to the Liberty Bowl in 1972 before leaving for Pitt.
4. National champions (1976)
Pittsburgh had gone 1-10 in 1972, but both Majors and freshman running back Tony Dorsett arrived on campus in '73. The Panthers reeled off four straight winning seasons that culminated with a 12-0 record in 1976 in which Pitt beat all of its opponents by at least eight points. Pitt won the national title and Majors received National Coach of the Year honors.
5. An epic recovery (1981)
Although he had built a powerhouse at Pitt, Majors returned to his alma mater in 1977 to rebuild Tennessee's program. It did not come fast, as the Volunteers only made one bowl game in his first four seasons. The Vols started 1981 with a 44-0 loss to Georgia and 43-7 loss to USC on the road. But the team held together and finished 8-4, beating Wisconsin 28-21 in the Garden State Bowl. It marked a run of 10 bowl appearances in 11 seasons. Majors said he was as proud of this team as any that he has ever coached.
6. The end of the streak (1982)
When Majors came back to Knoxville, Tennessee had lost six straight games to Alabama. By 1982, that number had ballooned to 11. The Crimson Tide arrived at Neyland Stadium that year 5-0, having throttled eventual national champion Penn State the week before, while the Vols were 2-2-1. This day would be different as Tennessee took a 35-21 fourth-quarter lead and Mike Terry intercepted a pass in the end zone in the final seconds to preserve a 35-28 victory. It marked Majors' only win over Bear Bryant.
7. First SEC title (1985)
The road to Majors' first SEC title was not easy. The Vols opened the season with a 26-26 tie to eventual Pac-10 champion UCLA and then upset Bo Jackson and No. 1 Auburn 38-20. After losing to Florida (who also held the No. 1 ranking that season) in Gainesville, things appeared to get worse against Alabama when Tennessee lost star quarterback Tony Robinson to a season-ending knee injury. Daryl Dickey came off the bench and led the Vols to the win and an 8-2-1 record and SEC title. Tennessee then had to play No. 2 Miami in the Sugar Bowl, where the Vols shocked the Hurricanes in a 35-7 beatdown.
8. From a losing season to SEC champions (1989)
Tennessee started the 1988 season 0-6 before winning the last five games and entered '89 unranked. The Vols put the previous year behind them and reeled off wins against No. 6 UCLA and No. 4 Auburn as they went 10-1 to share the SEC title with Auburn and Alabama, who handed Tennessee its only loss that season. The Vols then beat Arkansas 31-27 in the Cotton Bowl and finished the season ranked fifth.
9. Back-to-back SEC champs (1990)
The Vols opened the wacky 1990 season with a 31-31 tie with eventual national champion Colorado in the Pigskin Classic and then tied No. 3 Auburn 26-26 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in the fifth game of the season. After blowing out Florida 45-3, Tennessee was handed its first loss in a 9-6 upset by Alabama. A 34-29 defeat courtesy of No. 1 Notre Dame knocked the Vols out of the national championship picture, but they reeled off three straight wins to garner the SEC title. In the Sugar Bowl, Tennessee scored 20 points in the fourth quarter to come back and beat Virginia 23-22.
10. The miracle at South Bend (1991)
After suffering back-to-back losses to Florida and Alabama, Tennessee's third defeat appeared imminent when Notre Dame jumped out to a 31-7 lead in the second quarter at home. However, the Vols methodically worked their way back and took a 35-34 lead in the game's final minutes and blocked their second field goal of the contest to win. "I don't think there will be a bigger win as long as I live," Majors said after the game. "This may be the greatest comeback in Tennessee history."
— Rankings by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports' Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)