ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Lovable Sideline Boss Led Utes to 1998 NCAA Finals
RICK MAJERUS 1948-2012
LOS ANGELES – Rick Majerus, the jovial basketball-obsessed coach who led Utah to the 1998 NCAA final and had only one losing season in 25 years with four schools, died Saturday. He was 64.
Majerus was a legendary figure in the Pit, where his Utes had many incredible battles with the New Mexico Lobos – and had a competitive love affair with the fans.
|Most wins against UNM in Pit:
n Don Haskins (UTEP) 8-24
n Steve Fisher (San Diego State) 6-7
n Neil McCarthy (Weber State/NMSU) 5-9
n Rick Majerus (Utah/Saint Louis) 5-11
n Jim Brandenburg (Wyoming) 4-6
n Jerry Pimm (Utah) 4-5
Last year, Majerus – then head coach at Saint Louis – told the Journal: “Albuquerque is just a great college basketball town. … I think, maybe, they have the best fan base in America. They’re loyal; they’re dedicated; they’re knowledgeable.”
Majerus and Saint Louis lost in the Pit to UNM last December.
Utah industrialist Jon Huntsman, the coach’s longtime friend, confirmed in a statement released through The Salt Lake Tribune that Majerus died of heart failure in a Los Angeles hospital. The coach had been hospitalized there for several months.
Players remembered Majerus, who got his start as an assistant under Al McGuire at Marquette, as a coach who was exacting and perhaps a bit unorthodox at times, but always fair. Majerus was known for assembling rosters with an international flair, and his final team at Saint Louis had players from Australia and New Zealand.
“It was a unique experience, I’ll tell you that, and I loved every minute of it,” said Saint Louis guard Kyle Cassity, who was mostly a backup on last season’s 26-win team after starting for Majerus earlier in his college career. “A lot of people questioned the way he did things, but I loved it. He’d be hard as hell on you, but he really cared.”
The new of Majerus’ death spread quickly in the college basketball world on Saturday, and in Albuquerque .
“He was meticulous in his planning and his scouting,” said ex-UNM assistant Ron Garcia, now boys basketball coach at Albuquerque High. “He was as prepared a coach as you ever could go against and just a very intense man.”
Bob Clark, a news radio talk show host at 770 KKOB and former sports talk show host, said: “He was a great coach and a great character. His teams versus (Dave) Bliss’ Lobos in the ’90s in the Pit were some classic games.”
Former Lobo star Clayton Shields, now an investigator in Dallas, told the Journal: “We had some great battles with his teams. They were probably the best coached and most disciplined team we played against each season. They did all the little things right, and I had so much respect for coach Majerus; everyone on the team did. His teams were all the spitting image of him – tough, hard-nosed.”
Saint Louis AD Chris May said in a statement that what he would remember most about Majerus “was his enduring passion to see his players excel both on and off the court. He truly embraced the term ‘student-athlete,’ and I think that will be his lasting legacy.”
The school announced Nov. 19 that Majerus wouldn’t return to Saint Louis because of the heart condition. He ended the school’s 12-year NCAA Tournament drought last season, and bounced back from his only losing season, with a team that won its opening game and took top regional seed Michigan State to the wire.
Majerus was undergoing evaluation and treatment in California for the ongoing heart trouble and the school announced he was on leave in late August.
Loyola of Chicago coach Porter Moser, an assistant under Majerus at Saint Louis from 2007-10, tweeted: “RIP to my friend and mentor Coach Majerus. I learned so much about the game and life. We lost One of the best! My heart is heavy tonight.”
Missouri coach Frank Haith said it was a “sad day for all of college basketball.”
“Coach Majerus was a tremendous coach and one of the all-time great personalities in our profession,” Haith said. “Our hearts and prayers go out to Rick’s family and friends and all the wonderful student-athletes and staff at Saint Louis University.”
Majerus had a history of heart and weight problems dating to 1989 that persisted despite a daily constitutional of a mile swim. He had a stent inserted in August 2011 in Salt Lake City and missed some games in the 2011-12 season after gashing his leg in a collision with players.
Majerus was 95-69 in five seasons at Saint Louis and had a 25-year record of 517-216, with 15 20-win seasons and two 30-win seasons. He had his most success at Utah, going 323-95 from 1989-2004. He was at Marquette from 1983-86, and Ball State from 1987-89.
Ball State was 29-3 in 1988-89 under Majerus, including the school’s first NCAA Tournament victory. At Utah, Majerus produced 10 conference championships in 13 seasons.
“Rick left a lasting legacy at the University of Utah, not only for his incredible success and the national prominence he brought to our basketball program, but also for the tremendous impact he made on the young men who were fortunate enough to play on his teams,” Utah athletic director Dr. Chris Hill said in a statement.
Majerus took 12 teams to the NCAA Tournament, winning at least one game in all but one of those appearances, with the 1998 Utah team losing to Kentucky in the title game.
The portly coach was unabashed in his love of food, always quick with a restaurant recommendation for whatever town his teams were playing in.
His autobiography, “My Life On a Napkin,” came out in 2000.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal