It certainly makes sense to name Saturday’s matchup between Tennessee football and the Pittsburgh Panthers the Johnny Majors Classic. After all, Majors’ legendary career is based off of what he did at those two schools.
On Rocky Top, Majors was a Heisman Trophy runner-up and All-American in 1956, when he led the Vols to a 10-0 regular season record and SEC Championship. He then won three SEC Championships as a head coach there. Meanwhile, at Pitt, he had two separate four-year stints and won the 1976 national championship behind Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett.
However, Majors isn’t the only connection between Tennessee football and Pitt. The two programs have shared many connections over the years, most notably Among them being schools that like to live in the past.
Yes, while the Vols get trolled for living off their success as an elite program in the 1990s, Pitt is actually a more extreme case of that. The Panthers were a powerhouse program in the first half of the 20th century, claiming eight national titles between 1915 and 1938. Ironically, 1938 is the first year the Vols claimed a national title.
Then there are the individual connections. Pitt’s most successful season in recent years came in 2015 and 2016. Those are UT’s most successful seasons the past decade too, but Pitt ironically did it with Nathan Peterman at quarterback. Peterman went there after transferring from the Vols, where he was at from 2012 to 2014.
Not only was Peterman there those two years, but Jim Chaney was there in 2015. The was between his stints with the Arkansas Razorbacks and Georgia Bulldogs, which were between his two stints with the Vols, from 2009 to 2012 and then from 2019 to 2020.
Back in the 2000s and late 1990s, Pitt shared another Tennessee football connection with head coach Walt Harris. From 1983 to 1988, Harris was the Vols’ offensive coordinator, and he was the guy to help establish the pro-style that turned the program into Wide Receiver U. He then coached Pitt from 1997 to 2004 and developed Larry Fitzgerald while winning the Big East in 2004.
Harris, like Jackie Sherrill, is a Majors protege. Another former, much more infamous UT assistant, also coached at Pitt for a brief stint. Sal Sunseri, the defensive coordinator for the Vols who resulted in Derek Dooley’s firing in 2012, was interim head coach for Pitt for one game in 1992 after spending eight years there as an assistant. Pitt then rehired Majors after the Vols fired him.
Obviously, Majors is the root of many connections between Tennessee football and Pitt, but there are some connections that go even beyond him. That the two have only played twice, both times in the 1980s with Pitt winning, is actually a bit shocking. It’s about time they met again.