The two teams will also play next season at Pitt. The series has been dubbed the Johnny Majors Classic as a tribute to Majors, who died in June 2020 at the age of 85. Majors served as head coach at both Pitt and Tennessee, including two different stints at Pitt.
“Coach Majors means a lot to both schools, and he means a lot to me,” Sherrill told ESPN. “He’s the one who started me in coaching, and we remained very tight all the way up to his passing.”
Sherrill will speak to the Pitt team prior to the game. He and Majors coached together for five years at Iowa State (1968-72) and were together for three years at Pitt (1973-75). Majors guided Pitt to an unbeaten season and national championship in 1976 before leaving for Tennessee, his alma mater, the next season.
Tony Dorsett, whom Sherrill helped recruit to Pitt before taking the Washington State head coaching job in 1976, won the Heisman Trophy during the Panthers’ national championship season. Sherrill returned to Pitt as head coach from 1977 to ’81 after Majors left for Tennessee and won 11 games in each of his final three seasons before leaving for the Texas A&M head coaching job.
“Coach Majors set the tone for those great teams and will always be loved by the Pitt people,” Sherrill said.
Sherrill, 77, told ESPN that he had a chance to talk with Majors by phone the day before he died.
“He called me, and we talked for an hour and a half,” Sherrill recounted. “He was in great spirits and said he felt good and kept saying, ‘I want to come see you.’ I told him that my grandkids lived in Nashville, and we were supposed to meet up in Nashville later in the month. It’s still hard to believe that he’s gone. We had so many great moments together. I used to always tease him that I think we only had one cross word in all of the years I worked for him.”
Sherrill led Pitt to a 30-6 win over Majors and the Vols in 1980 at Neyland Stadium, the first meeting ever between the schools. Dan Marino was on that 1980 Pitt team, although he missed the Tennessee game with an injury, and so was defensive lineman Hugh Green, who finished second that season in the Heisman Trophy balloting.
“That was a long time ago, but it will be great to be back and honor one of the finest men and coaches I’ve been around,” said Sherrill, who won two national championships as a player while playing at Alabama for Bear Bryant.