Tennessee hosts Pitt on Saturday (noon ET, SEC Network) in just the third meeting between the schools, and the first since 1983. But this is far more than a random attachment of schools looking to check their Power 5 non-conference opponent box.
The Vols and Panthers share an important link, and they'll celebrate it this weekend in Knoxville (as well as next year in Pittsburgh), by dubbing the home-and-home series the Johnny Majors Classic.
A Lynchburg, Tenn., native, Majors played at UT and began his coaching career there in 1957. He landed his first head coaching job at Iowa State in 1968 and, after compiling a 24-30-1 mark in five seasons, left for Pitt.
His first team went 6-5-1, but the Panthers improved rapidly from there -- 7-4 in 1974, 8-4 with a Sun Bowl win and a No. 15 AP ranking in '75, and then a national championship in 1976. Led by Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett, those Panthers opened with a 31-10 blowout at Notre Dame and were never seriously challenged after that. Only West Virginia played Pitt within one score, and the Panthers closed the year with a 24-7 defeat of No. 16 Penn State and a 27-3 Sugar Bowl romp over No. 5 Georgia.
And then Majors left.
He remains the only coach in modern college football history to leave for another college job immediately after winning a national title, returning to Tennessee. “It was the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make," he wrote in his book, You Can Go Home Again, on going home again.
The Vols never won a national title in his 16 seasons but did claim three SEC titles and three AP top-10 finishes. In fact, Majors was fresh off a streak of three straight New Year's Six appearances when behind-the-scenes moves following Majors' heart procedure forced him out midseason in 1992, replaced by his own offensive coordinator, Phillip Fulmer.
Majors then returned to Pitt but never reached a bowl game in four seasons, retiring in 1996. A 2-time SEC MVP and runner-up for the Heisman Trophy as a halfback in 1956, Majors was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1987.
Majors died on June 3, 2020, at the age of 85.
"Every time I walk past our national championship display, I'm reminded—and inspired—by his legacy. He set high standards on and off the field during his incredible career," Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said when the announcement was made last month.
"I think it's fitting that we get to honor Coach Majors and what he's meant to both programs," Josh Heupel said Monday.
Both previous meetings came in Knoxville with Pitt defeating its former coach both times. The Panthers won 30-6 on Oct. 25, 1980 and 13-3 on Sept. 3, 1983.