Johnny Majors: 7-5 (3-3)
Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl appearance
After the worst season in modern history in 1977 and a 5-5-1 season in 1978 to miss a fourth straight bowl game, legitimate questions about Johnny Majors were beginning to arise. All he had going for him was a strong finish to 1978 against three bad teams.
Tennessee football got off to a red-hot start in 1979, however, beating the Boston College Eagles, Utah Utes and Auburn Tigers to get to 3-0. All of a sudden, the Vols were in the top 25 and on a six-game winning streak dating back to the previous year, and it seemed that Majors had finally gotten the program rolling.
But an upset loss to the Mississippi State Bulldogs brought them back down to Earth. After beating the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, they then were blown out by the No. 1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.
At 4-2, the Vols had their oddest three weeks in history after that. The Rutgers Scarlet Knights came to town, and they upset UT 13-7 during UT’s homecoming, one of their worst upset losses ever. But, oddly enough, Majors’s team rebounded the next week to blow out the No. 13 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish 40-18. But then they lost to the eventual 4-7 Ole Miss Rebels 44-20.
So 3-0 had become 5-4. But UT managed to win its final two games to finish 7-4. The odd part, though, is that they would beat two teams to finish with a winning record while three of their four losses came to teams who would finish with a losing record. This program wasn’t used to success and didn’t know how to deal with it.
In spite of the inconsistency, they still got to their first bowl game in five years. A close loss to the Purdue Boilermakers resulted in a 7-5 season, but it showed Majors was building something. Even after sinking back to 5-6 in 1980, his program began to take off in 1981.