Remembering Johnny Majors

PITT National Championship, by Merv Corning, watercolor, 1996. Gift of Arthur J. Rooney, Jr.
PITT National Championship, by Merv Corning, watercolor, 1996. Portraits of Coach Johnny Majors and Heisman Trophy winner and Pro Football Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett center this piece created for the 20th anniversary of the 1976 championship season. Gift of Arthur J. Rooney, Jr.

The History Center and Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum were saddened to hear of the passing of coaching legend Johnny Majors. Though his home state of Tennessee always remained his first love, he left an indelible mark on Western Pennsylvania.

Pitt Coach Johnny Majors coaches in the “Backyard Brawl” rivalry game against West Virginia University on Nov. 13, 1976 at Pitt Stadium. Pitt went on to win the National Championship after posting a 12-0 record in Majors’ fourth season as head coach. Gift of Anthony Kambic, PSS 30, Detre Library & Archives at the History Center.
Pitt Coach Johnny Majors coaches in the “Backyard Brawl” rivalry game against West Virginia University on Nov. 13, 1976 at Pitt Stadium. Pitt went on to win the National Championship after posting a 12-0 record in Majors’ fourth season as head coach. Gift of Anthony Kambic, PSS 30, Detre Library & Archives at the History Center.

Majors joined the University of Pittsburgh as head football coach in 1973 and three seasons later led the Panthers to a 12-0 record and a national championship. A Heisman runner up at Tennessee as a player in 1956, he molded the incredible talent of Tony Dorsett into a Heisman Trophy winner just 20 years later in 1976.

Though Majors left to coach his beloved Tennessee in 1977, he returned to Pittsburgh and led the Panthers again from 1992-96. After retiring from coaching he served the University as an assistant to the athletic director and advisor to the chancellor.

When the History Center put together its Champions Committee to advise on and support the building of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, Coach Majors enthusiastically supported the cause. He generously shared his time and contacts and took great pride in seeing the story of Pitt Football and his legacy shared in the Museum.

Medallion, Coach of the Year, Awarded by American Football Coaches Assoc., 1976. Courtesy of John Majors.
Medallion, Coach of the Year, Awarded by American Football Coaches Assoc., 1976. Courtesy of John Majors.

A coach to our staff, he motivated us, cajoled us, and drove us to be our best. His dedication to excellence in all endeavors made the Sports Museum better. Coach Majors even reviewed the exhibits as they developed and kindly, but firmly pointed out errors or typos that he saw in exhibit text! This attention to detail and willingness to share his expertise made John Majors a force to be reckoned with.

Coach Majors was proud of his association with the History Center. After he retired to Tennessee, he visited the museum whenever he came to Pittsburgh and loved to share it with friends when they came to town.

Recognized for his success, Majors was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1987. His family, friends, and those he touched through coaching and community service will miss him. We are comforted to know that his legacy endures at the University of Pittsburgh, in the Sports Museum, and with all of us who knew him.

Anne Madarasz is the director of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum.

Franco Harris is a Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer and co-chair of the Sports Museum’s Champions Committee.

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