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Former Cyclone head coach Johnny Majors has passed away at 85

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The Tennessee legend led Iowa State to a 24-30-1 record from 1968-1972.

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TCU v Iowa State Photo by David K Purdy/Getty Images

Johnny Majors, the first Cyclone head coach to bring Iowa State to a postseason bowl, has died Wednesday morning.

Majors brought the successful football he learned while a Heisman runner up at Tennessee to Clyde Williams Field, and the Ames community as a whole.

Coach Majors brought football magic everywhere he touched. In his junior year of high school, he rushed for 2,550 yards for the Huntland Hornets.

Melvin, Russ. “Huntland Back Sets Unbelievable Mark.” The Nashville Tennessean 26 Nov. 1951: 17. Print.

Next, Majors was a key cog in Tennessee’s single-wing offense from 1953-1956, amassing 1,622 yards on the ground as a Volunteer.

He came back to Tennessee to position coach from 1957-1959, then Mississippi State, then Arkansas before coming to Iowa State to replace Clay Stapleton.

“One of the greatest victories was the first one (Buffalo) because as a head coach, you never know if you’re going to win a game or not,” Coach Majors said in a June 2017 interview with WRNL.

Majors had two 3-7 seasons at Iowa State, before turning the tide at the turn of the decade in 1970, going 5-6 with star wideout Otto Stowe.

In the 1971 season, the Cyclones only lost three regular season games.

“We went 8-3 in ‘71 and it’s the only time in history that the Big 8 Conference finished the season, after the bowl games, 1, 2, and 3, nationally. Nebraska was 12-0, Oklahoma was 11-1 and they only lost to Nebraska, Colorado was 10-2, and we were 8-3, those were the only three teams we lost to. That was by far the best conference in the country,” Majors said.

Johnny Majors patrols the sideline at the 1971 Sun Bowl.
Iowa State Cyclone Football - Twitter

The following season, Iowa State was ranked as high as No. 12 in the country. The Cyclones tied No. 3 Nebraska 23-23 on a rainy day when Clyde Williams Field was caked in mud. Iowa State went 80 yards in 3 12 game minutes but missed the extra point. “It would’ve been one of the greatest victories of Iowa State,” Majors said.

The Cyclones went to the Liberty Bowl with a 5-5-1 record where they came within three yards of beating Bill Fulcher’s Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

Majors left for Pitt the next day where he would win a National Title in 1976 thanks to Heisman winner Tony Dorsett.

He went back to his alma mater from 1977-1992, going 116-62-8 and winning the SEC title three times: 1985, 1989 and 1990.

His 1982 Volunteers took on Iowa State, winning 23-21, if you’re interested, here’s a digitized game program from that game.

He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1987.

From 1993-1996 he went back to Pittsburgh, not having the same success, winning nine games in four seasons.

He had an outstanding coaching tree while at Iowa State.


Some of my favorite stories he ever told me were the following.

On George Amundson against Mizzou in 1971: George had a run of 31 yards for a touchdown, and then he goes 71 yards on a quarterback option keeper. And then Dean Carlson, our other quarterback went twenty yards on the same play. We tore Missouri up, we beat them 31 to 19. Iowa State had not beaten Missouri in twenty years period, and we had not beat them in 31 years down in Columbia, Missouri. And late in the game, with about three minutes to go I told George to “run the clock play” which meant you take the ball go back, and get on one knee. Next thing you know he’s diving over the line and gains a yard or two. I’m yelling from the sideline “George, GEORGE, get on the damn ground!” He sticks his head out of the huddle and says “But coach, it’ll ruin my rushing average.”

It’s funny today, but I wanted to kill him. But, he was so good I couldn’t afford to kill him. He’s got a great sense of humor and a great personality.

On Amundson in practice: I said one day at practice “you gotta have fun at practice, gotta have enthusiasm, gotta be vibrant.” We were practicing one day and George sprints out on the sprint out pass, he’s going to his right and the tight end was about eight or ten yards deep going in the same direction to the right. George jumps up in the air, and he lifts his left leg while jumping and he throws the ball under his left leg and completes the pass to Keith Krepfle, a great tight end. And I ask him, George what the hell are you doing man? He responds with my saying of that we have to have fun out here and I couldn’t argue that.

On Amundson during a rainy day of practice: Another time it was raining at practice and we had a little puddle of water where I called the players around and George just slides like you slide into second base if you’re trying to steal. He just slides in it and splatters water all over me. So, I was tough, and I was demanding, aggressive and a disciplinarian. But a little of that (fun) is good for the team. When George splashed this water all over my khaki pants, that’s the kind of guy he is. A terrific person, a great father, three outstanding daughters. I keep up with them, I go back to Iowa State every year, I got to. I love it, I’ll always appreciate it, I’ve never lived in a place with a more fine people.


“My teams always played with pride and enthusiasm. We certainly brought pride and enthusiasm to Iowa State and I’m proud to be a part of it, and I had some wonderful people who have supported me greatly. It was an exciting experience to go from nowhere to somewhere very important,” Majors said.

You sure did Coach. Thanks for all the memories you brought the people of my hometown, rest in peace.