Johnny Majors barely holds back the snicker to not insult the naive reporter standing before him.
The longtime Tennessee football coach just smiles, then names enough coaches that abruptly left one job for another to fill a notebook. Majors names coaches that bolted from one school to another all the way back to the 1911.
So, suffice it to say, Majors wasn’t stunned by Lane Kiffin’s decision to leave UT for Southern California in January.
“I wasn’t shocked,” said Majors, who publicly endorsed Kiffin during his tenure, which lasted just over 13 months. “I think he did a very good job when he was here. I’ll still say that. I think they had the program where they were getting ready to turn it around. Only time would tell.”
Majors, who coached the Vols from 1977-92, even went so far as to compare his career to Kiffin’s.
“I left Iowa State because I thought Pittsburgh was a better opportunity,” Majors said. “I loved Iowa State, but it’s a very challenging job to beat Oklahoma and Nebraska.”
The Vols face a similar challenge. Every season, they’ll face off against Alabama and Florida. Those two teams have won three of the last four national championships.
“Tennessee isn’t accustomed to a coach leaving on his own here,” Majors said. “This is a great job here (at UT).
“Southern Cal, there is not a greater job in the country as far as talent to recruit from in a close area. They’ve been outstanding since the early part of the last century.”
The last century is the last time UT competed for a national championship. The Vols have had two losing seasons since 2005 and have now turned to former Louisiana Tech coach Derek Dooley to rebuild a once-elite program.
Majors knows what Dooley is facing.
“This was a tough rebuilding job,” Majors said, referring to when he accepted the head coaching job at UT after the Vols had only won 20 games in the previous three seasons. “This job is similar today to when I took it. It was tough turning it around, really tough.”
It took time for Majors to turn it around. The Vols went 21-23-1 in his first four seasons before going 8-4 in 1981.
Majors didn’t make any predictions, but he seems confident in Dooley.
Majors immediately endorsed the hire in January. He said he first began admiring Dooley when he went from a walk-on to a scholarship receiver at Virginia that faced off against Majors’ Vols in the Sugar Bowl after the 1990 season.
Majors got to know Dooley even more through football camps that the two have been involved with over the last few years.
“When he spoke, he spoke very well,” Majors said. “I’ve heard him lecture. I’ve been impressed by his presentation, his organization and his knowledge of football.”
That came from hard work, not bloodlines. Majors said he doesn’t see a spoiled coach’s son when he’s visited with Dooley despite the fact that his father, Vince Dooley, coached at Georgia for 25 years and won a national championship.
“I told his mother and daddy on several occasions ‘Your son’s going to do very well in coaching. I like the way he presents himself. He’s not only knowledgeable and confident; he’s also very respectful.’ I appreciated that,” Major said.
That’s just Dooley being Dooley.
“I just think that’s part of the basic human condition, to treat people with respect, especially people that have done so much,” he said. “I don’t think it’s anything I should get a pat on the back for. I just think it’s something you should do.”
Dooley has been a fan of Majors almost as long as he’s been a football fan. In his introductory press conference at UT, Dooley recalled how he enjoyed watching Majors’ enthusiasm during his coaching show.
“One of my favorite shows every Sunday was the Johnny Majors Show,” Dooley said again after practice this week. “He just had great energy. He’d bang that desk. He was into every play.
“Some of those coach’s shows were so boring. I’m not going to say my dad’s was, but …”
Dooley figured out quick that Majors wasn’t boring, especially when the two were traveling from one camp to another.
“He’s got a little personality so he hung out with my mother, not my father, when they went on the Nike trips,” Dooley said referring to his mother, Barbara Dooley, a frequent outspoken football fan on some regional radio shows.
Dooley, who was questioned publicly for a tighter policy with former players early in his tenure, made his feeling clear when asked about Majors’ inclusion in the program.
“It’s important that everybody who had any blood, sweat or tears still left here be a part of the program because it’s their program,” he said. “We have one of the greatest traditions in college football of winning. That didn’t happen because of one person. It happened because of thousands of people that played, coached and were in the support staff. They’re all — to me — a part of the program.
“I’m just a little speck in it. I hope they all come back and embrace what we’re trying to do.”
Majors clearly has. The tough-minded coach even gave Dooley the ultimate compliment: He’s tough.
“I don’t think anybody can work for Nick Saban and be a candy (expletive),” Majors said with that same smile.