Johnny Majors believes Lane Kiffin would have won with the Vols had he stayed

Johnny Majors believes Lane Kiffin would have won with the Vols had he stayed

June 26th, 2015 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Former Tennessee player and head coach Johnny Majors looks up after his No. 45 jersey was retired in this 2012, file photo.

Former Tennessee player and head coach Johnny Majors...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Johnny Majors went 115-62-8 as the head football coach at the University of Tennessee from 1977 to 1992, winning Southeastern Conference titles in 1985, '89 and '90.

Now 80 years old and having undergone heart-valve surgery in March 2014, Majors was a guest Thursday afternoon on "Press Row" on ESPN 105.1 FM.

Q: First and foremost, how are you feeling?

A: "I'm feeling great. I catch myself sometimes when I'm having a little cocktail out on my deck overlooking the Tennessee River getting a great urge to get off the deck and start chewing some grass and moo, because I now have a cow's valve. It's working well, and I'm doing fine."

Q: What has it been like watching Tennessee struggle to be a .500 program these last several years?

A: "Well, to be honest with you, they wouldn't be struggling these last eight or 10 years had they not run me out the back door. We had the three winningest years of my career in '89, '90 and '91. We won a Cotton Bowl, won a Sugar Bowl and went to the Fiesta Bowl and lost to Penn State.

"We went to three major bowls, and they haven't done that in about 15 years. In my opinion, we would have won more national championships, because we had things going, and once you get things going, you can build on it. They already had a program built when they threw me out the door, a championship program, and they've let it go down through the years."

Q: Where do you think the program is now under Butch Jones?

A: "I think they're going to be better this year, and I think they're going to have a better record. The Southeastern Conference Eastern Division is experiencing its two weakest years since the conference expanded in 1992, but Tennessee has recruited some good athletes, and it looks like Butch Jones is a very good recruiter.

"To be frank with you, Tennessee could have been 8-4 last year. They really blew the Florida game and the Georgia game. They outplayed Georgia but fumbled the ball on the 1-yard line, and that ended up being a touchdown for Georgia. Tennessee dominated Florida defensively, and that was probably the most subpar Florida team since before (Steve) Spurrier."

Q: Do you have a good relationship with Coach Jones?

A: "Yes, but I had a good relationship with Derek Dooley, and I had a good relationship with Lane Kiffin. I've been friends with Lane Kiffin's father (Monte) for 40 years. The Kiffins treated me great, and I came back to the practice fields for the first time since they ran me off after the 1992 season.

"Dooley treated me wonderfully well, but he didn't get much done, to be frank with you. Kiffin would have won if he had stayed there, and there is no doubt about it. I know a lot of Tennessee people don't like him, but he had a good reason to go to Southern Cal."

Q: What was your best team at Tennessee?

A: "I think the '90 team had a great chance to win the national championship, but we lost Chuck Webb early in the season. He's one of the greatest players I've ever coached. He had the potential to win the Heisman Trophy, and he worked hard in practice every day. He was in the class of Tony Dorsett, and that was probably the most talented team we ever had.

"The '85 team is one of the most favorite teams in Tennessee history among the fans. We overcame considerable adversity after losing Tony Robinson, who was the most talented quarterback I've ever coached. Daryl Dickey came off the bench and did a great job, and the only player off that defense who was drafted was Richard Cooper, who was a pretty average defensive lineman who wound up playing on the offensive line in the pros.

"We had some outstanding guys in that defensive backfield, and that whole '85 team was filled with guys who played up to their potential as much as any team I had in 29 years as a head coach. Dale Jones was a perfect example, because he was one of the greatest big-play men and greatest captains and greatest leaders I ever coached. He never played a minute of pro ball, but he's one of the greatest players in school history."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.