Former standout Tennessee football player and head coach Johnny Majors died on Wednesday morning. He was 85.

“John passed away this morning,” John’s wife, Mary Lynn Majors, said in a statement. “He spent his last hours doing something he dearly loved – looking out over his cherished Tennessee River.”

Majors starred at tailback for the Vols from 1953-56. He was the SEC Player of the Year in 1955 and 1956 and was runner-up to Paul Hornung for the 1956 Heisman Trophy.

He ran for 1,622 yards and 15 touchdowns while averaging 4.2 yards per carry in three years with the Vols. He added 1,135 yards passing with 10 TD passes while completing 54.1 percent of his passes. He was inducted as a player into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1987.

“Coach was a legendary sideline game manager, always in the moment as he paced the sideline and made strategic moves,” Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer said in a statement. “He was a fighter and taught his teams and coaches to be fighters. He also was a student of the game and taught his coaches and players to be students. He believed college football was a force for good, and he made all of us who worked under him believe that as well. His home state, his university and his game will miss him.”

Majors took over as the head coach at the University of Pittsburgh in 1973, compiling a 33-13-1 record over four seasons and winning a National title in 1976 after a 12-0 season. He won two bowl games with the Panthers.

Following his national championship season, Majors went back to his alma mater in 1977. He had a 116-62-8 career record as the Vols head coach with three SEC championships and seven bowl wins -- including five straight from 1985-90 and two Sugar Bowl wins in 1986 and 1991.

Tennessee’s 1985 SEC title was the Vols’ first in 16 years. He was forced to resign as coach in 1992 when Fulmer took over the program.

“I am deeply saddened by the loss of coach Majors,” Vols football coach Jeremy Pruitt said in a statement. “Not only was he a Hall of Fame player and a legendary football coach, he was a great man, leader and visionary. In my short time at the University of Tennessee, I really enjoyed our conversations about life, football and our shared passion for the Vols.

“He would light up talking about what football and the University of Tennessee meant to him. I will miss seeing him at our practices and around our building. My condolences and prayers go out to his family, his former teammates, players and coaches, and the entire Vol Nation.”

Several coaches went onto successful head coaching careers after working under Majors including: Fulmer (Tennessee), Dom Capers (Carolina Panthers, Houston Texans), David Cutcliffe (Ole Miss, Duke), Jon Gruden (Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Jimmy Johnson (Oklahoma State, Miami, Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins) and Al Saunders (San Diego Chargers), to name a few.

In total, his coaching tree includes 33 assistant coaches who went to a head coaching job in either college or professional football. 

This post originally appeared in our sister publication, the Nashville Post

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