It’s not completely based on what they both did with Tennessee football, but the Vols claim them more than anybody else. UT has the unique distinction of having back to back coaches among the greatest dating back to 1971.
In a list ranking the top 101 coaches of the past 50 years by Bill Connelly of ESPN, Johnny Majors was No. 50, and Phillip Fulmer was No. 49. Both spent 16 seasons as head coach of UT, with Fulmer directly following Majors. That’s luck on the level of the Green Bay Packers going from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers or the San Francisco 49ers going from Joe Montana to Steve Young.
Of course, Fulmer made the list because of his success solely with Tennessee football. Majors, meanwhile, had less success on Rocky Top but also had success with the Pittsburgh Panthers, where he won a national title, and the Iowa State Cyclones. Here’s what was written about both of them in the story.
"Majors is one of the best coaches ever at three different schools. He built something out of nothing at ISU, rode Tony Dorsett to a Pitt national title and turned Tennessee into a late-1980s SEC powerhouse. Down years sullied the win percentage, but the highs were stratospheric.…Fulmer got all the arrows pointed in the right direction in Knoxville, rode Peyton Manning to three top-10 finishes, then won a national title without him. He finished with eight seasons of 10-plus wins, and Tennessee hasn’t won an SEC East title without him."
At UT, Fulmer went 152-52 with two SEC Championships. Majors went 116-62-8 and won three SEC Championships. However, overall, Majors went 185-137-10, and he built up both Pitt and the Vols to a level of success that allowed his successors, Jackie Sherrill and Fulmer respectively, to win national titles at those programs. Majors even led ISU to its first two bowl games.
Both Fulmer and Majors were players for the Vols, with Majors being the bigger star in the 1950s, leading UT to a 10-1 record and SEC title in 1956 while earning Heisman Trophy runner-up. However, Fulmer enjoyed the 1969 SEC title and had a 30-5 three-year record with two top 10 finishes after that ’69 title.
Simply put, both are legends. In terms of success on Rocky Top, Fulmer gets the nod, but if you look at who was more successful in building programs, Majors clearly stands out. He did it at three different schools.
There were obviously many schools with multiple coaches on the list, including coaches in the top 50. The Florida State Seminoles, Oregon Ducks and Miami Hurricanes were among schools like Tennessee football to have coaches and their successors on this list. However, the Alabama Crimson Tide were the luckiest, as Nick Saban and Bear Bryant were No. 1 and No. 2 respectively.