Remembering Johnny Majors: reaction to the passing of a college football legend

Orange & White Nation

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)- Coaches, players, media members and fans remember legendary Tennessee player and coach Johnny Majors after the college sports icon passed away at 85.

Bob Kesling, the “Voice of the Vols,” like many others was saddened by the news. He recalls Majors as being one of the most unique people he has ever met. Kesling remembers when he was a young sports reporter for WIVK starting his career in 1976 when Majors took the job as head coach at Tennessee. “He was a guy that was very much driven. He loved Tennessee,” Kesling recalls, “he [had] a lot of energy, he loved a lot of other things than just football, he was well read; a history buff, traveled all over the world.”

Former WATE-TV sports director and current communications director for the Roman Catholic diocese in Knoxville Jim Wogan dubs Majors a “renaissance man” echoing how well-rounded the former head coach was.

“I remember talking to Johnny on a  number of occasions bout books that he’s read, places that he’s traveled, about history he was passionate about reading about history and I think johnny was just, it was all about football in many respects but I used to call him a renaissance man,” said Wogan.

It was a privilege and honor for Wogan to have the chance to get to know Majors on and off of the football field. On the wall in Wogan’s office hangs a picture Wogan interviewing Majors. The respect and admiration Wogan has for Majors is clear in the photo that remains one of Wogan’s most cherished photos.

Though his legend lies on the grid iron and coaching from the sidelines, Wogan says he was much more than a football coach. Wogan says he wanted to know about you, he had a slightly mischievous sense of humor, and at times an ego as large as Neyland Stadium. Majors was a football coach with a “huge dimension to him that went beyond football” an aspect that Wogan will remember the most about coach Majors.

The Tennessee legend also had a lasting impact on Kesling, who paints Majors in a very similar light.

“The one thing I admired the most about him is how he dealt with people,” said Kesling. Majors was known to be inquisitive; taking the time to ask people how they were doing, where the were from, etc. “He wanted to make sure that you were pretty close to the team,” Kesling notes, “if he trusted you he would tell you a lot of things, but you didn’t want to betray that trust.”

As a head coach Majors was described as demanding, pushing his players and his coaching staff to be the best that they could be but that hard work paid off has a number of assistant coaches under Majors went on to take positions at the helm for college and professional teams. “When they got done coaching for Coach Majors they were better coaches and they were better people,” said Kesling.

While one of Wogan’s favorite memories was covering “The Miracle at South Bend” when the Vols made a legendary comeback to beat Notre Dame, for Kesling it was covering the 1986 Sugar Bowl when Tennessee beat Miami in New Orleans after losing start quarterback Tony Robinson to injury mid-season. “Just the way he coached that team after losing the starting quarterback, I think was his best coaching job,”Kesling recalls, “it’s one of the fondest memories any of us have following Coach Majors and his coaching career.”

Majors was a “larger than life figure” whose presence was felt when he entered a room, whose life will be fondly remembered by Kesling, Wogan and many others.

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