Johnny Majors parked his car on the back side of the hangar, where it was partly obscured by a row of light planes. He said he didn't like to be seen driving a Cadillac. "If you get your tail beat, it doesn't look good driving a Cadillac," he said. They had tried to give him a Cadillac prematurely at Pittsburgh, too, he said, but he held out for an Olds. Now that he was back in Tennessee, his resistance had apparently weakened, but he still had qualms. When the writer had come to Knoxville the week before, Majors had traded cars with Henry Lee Parker, his administrative assistant, so the writer wouldn't make something of it. "Henry Lee is more the Cadillac type," Majors said, grinning so that he exposed the division in the front teeth of what he calls his "ruddy farmer's face."
The pilot of the orange and white Piper Navajo was waiting in the warmth of the hangar together with a younger man with wispy red hair, a Tennessee assistant coach named Robbie Franklin. It was Franklin who had alerted Majors to the emergency. A coveted high school prospect, a defensive lineman living just south of Bowling Green, Ky., had signed a Tennessee grant-in-aid but was now wavering. Woody Hayes of Ohio State had paid the boy a visit. The visit set off vibrations. The player was good enough for Majors to make this sudden flight.
The university-owned Navajo and its pilot had been Majors' steady companions since early January. There had been Coach of the Year banquets from Boston to Los Angeles. Majors had swept the more established of these honors, but presumably because of the magnitude of his championship season at Pitt, new honors had been conceived, and accepting them had kept him flying around. He had been in demand as a lecturer, too, and there had been rush trips like this one to help get some meat on the bones of a Tennessee team that had gone 6-5 in 1976 and got Bill Battle fired.
"I wake up in a motel room and I don't remember if it's Humboldt, Tennessee, or Kalamazoo," Majors said. "I feel like a schizophrenic. How's it look, Charlie?"
The pilot plopped down a salt-stained pair of rubber boots. "It's snowing in Kentucky, coach," he said. "Not supposed to stick, but...."
Majors looked at his patent-leather shoes with blue suede tops. He was dressed handsomely, if not ruggedly, in a light-orange sports jacket, matching striped shirt and tie, gray slacks and a polished leather suburban coat. He shrugged.
"When I went out to take the Iowa State job in 1968, all I wore was a thin brown suit, like crepe paper. I was ducking in and out of doorways to stay warm.
"My first head coaching job—what did I know? I was a bundle of nerves. I couldn't sleep. I didn't know anybody. I was in the North. I was scared to death I'd fail. I'd always had that fear of failing. My first day at school, six years old, I told my mother, 'I'm not going.' She said, 'What's wrong with you?' I said, I can't read!'
"You should see the official picture they took of me in Ames. The expression on my face—miserable. I'm finally a head coach, and I don't know what the hell to do. I know I can't go back to Arkansas. Frank Broyles has already filled my old job. I know I have to recruit. My dad had told me, 'Lay your ears back and go to work.'
"I got a map of the state and took a ruler and divided it into four equal parts—one each for me and the three assistants I'd hired. I said, 'O.K.. we'll each take a quarter.' And one of my new assistants said. 'Better make that thirds, coach. I'm leaving.' I didn't even look up. I said to Jimmy Johnson, 'Take him to the airport, Jimmy.' I was discouraged enough without having to look at him."