Johnny Majors laughed.
"I've always been my own worst critic," he said. "So who knows? I do know that where I've been has a lot to do with where I'm heading. I think it gives me the perspective I need. I know what Bob Dillon would tell me. Did I tell you about Bob Dillon?
"Bob Dillon's about 72 now. A hell of a man. He was vice-president of KRNT-TV in Des Moines and on the Iowa State athletic board and the first person I met at the airport when I went to be interviewed. He was wearing a tuxedo, probably from a banquet or something. He said, 'We always meet our head coaches in tuxedos at Iowa State.'
"Dillon could see how miserable I was. He said, 'Young man, do you realize you're being offered $100,000?' I knew I was being offered $20,000 for five years, but I never quite saw it as a lump sum. He said, 'Do you realize how much money that is?' I said, 'No, I guess not.' He said, 'Young man, if you don't take a chance, you'll never know what you can do.' He quoted Shakespeare—'There's a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood...' and so on. He always gave me that one, and he'd give it to me now.
"You can't get too filled with yourself when you've experienced what I have. Playboy said we'd lose eight games. Another magazine picked us as 'The Failure of the Year.' We took copies of those magazines around to the fraternity houses and the dorms and waved them at those kids and said, 'This is what people are reading about you. Is that the way you want to be remembered 20 years from now?' I doubt they understood me, with my brogue and the way I mumble, but what the heck, it was fun.
"The thing is, you can't worry all the time about the first play you're going to run in a game. You got to have some fun. There wasn't anything we didn't try, at Iowa State or at Pitt. We got them to move lockers around, for privacy, and put carpet on the concrete floors, and paint the stadium. We got cars for the coaches and a steer or two for the training table. We had meetings just to discuss the colors of the uniforms. At Iowa State we got rid of those drab-colored pants and put the kids in white, and added Green Bay stripes. Players are your best ambassadors, and they deserve good food and good equipment, but they also want to look good.
"We heard the students sat on their hands at Iowa State, and at the first game, there were more people out hunting than there were in the stands. Three years later they were in that stadium shoulder to shoulder every Saturday at 12:30, an hour and a half before game time. They'd stand and they'd roar and roar and roar. Eddie Crowder [of Colorado] said it was the best enthusiasm in the Big Eight. The place only sat 30,000, but it sounded like three times that.
"When we left Iowa State, my wife Mary Lynn said, 'You'll never have a more rewarding experience than this,' and she was right.
"But it's like Dillon said—the tide was right. We wound up loving Pittsburgh just as much. I never thought I'd like a big city, but I did. We had tickets to the ballet, to the symphony. Mary Lynn got them for both of us, and I'd go. I suppose I averaged three out of 10."
Even the struggle for attendance, never ending in a town with beloved professional teams, had been fun, he said.