University of Tennessee All-American football player and coach John T. Majors was born May 21, 1935, in Lynchburg, the son of Shirley and Elizabeth Majors. Shirley Majors coached football, first as a high school coach and then at the University of the South. All five of his sons played college football: three at the University of Tennessee, one at Florida State, and one at the University of the South. John Majors graduated from Huntland High School in 1953, where he played for his father and scored an astonishing 565 points. Majors then enrolled at the University of Tennessee and became an All-American tailback under Coach Bowden Wyatt. The 1956 Volunteer team won the Southeastern Conference Championship. That year, Majors was named the SEC’s Most Valuable Player and made every All-American team. He was runner-up to Notre Dame’s Paul Hornung for the Heisman Trophy.
After graduation in 1957, Majors joined the UT coaching staff as a student coach. In 1960 he served as an assistant coach at Mississippi State University before joining the coaching staff of Frank Broyles at the University of Arkansas in 1964. There he met fellow staff member Doug Dickey. In 1968 Majors became head coach at Iowa State, where he led the Cyclones to two postseason bowl games and was named Big Eight Coach of the Year in 1971. In 1973 Majors accepted the head coaching position at the University of Pittsburgh. When he arrived at Pitt, the Panthers had won only one game the previous season. That fall, Majors produced a 6-5-1 record, followed by a 7-4 record in 1974 and an 8-4 record in 1975. The 1976 team, with Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett, won the national championship.
In 1977 Majors returned to the University of Tennessee as head coach. He first led the Vols to the Astro Bluebonnet Bowl against Purdue in 1979, and thereafter, Majors and the Vols seldom missed a postseason bowl. At Tennessee Majors posted 115 SEC victories, a feat which placed him among the top ten all-time SEC coaches for wins, and UT won three SEC championships during his tenure. In 1993 Majors returned to Pitt and retired from football in 1996.
In 1973 the Football Writers Association and the Walter Camp Foundation honored Majors as National Coach of the Year, the same year his father, Shirley Majors, won honors as Small College Coach of the Year. In 1976 both the Football Writers Association and the American Football Coaches Association named him National Coach of the Year. Majors is a charter inductee into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. He was selected to the All-SEC team picked by sports writers and broadcasters for the years 1950 through 1974.
Majors is married to Chattanooga native Mary Lynn Barnwell Majors. They are the parents of two children, a son, John Ireland, and a daughter, Mary Elizabeth.