Monday, December 3, 2012

Rick Majerus Coach of Marquette, Ball State, Utah, and Saint Louis died at 64 due to heart failure

Rick Majerus, one of the finest technical minds in history of college basketball and one of the game’s quirky and jovial personalities, died Saturday afternoon at 64. Close friends confirmed that Majerus, who won 70% of his games at Marquette, Ball State, Utah and St. Louis and coached Utah to the 1998 national championship game agianst Kentucky, died of heart failure at a Los Angeles hospital.

Majerus had been undergoing evaluation and treatment in California for ongoing heart problems since last spring and the school announced in late August that he was taking a leave of absence.

Rick Majerus

The rotund Majerus was known for his quirky, good-humored personality, intelligence and keen sense of wit. He was a coach who was tough on his players and demanded they play the fundamentally sound way. He refused to compromise his discipline. He loved to eat, was particularly fond of bratwurst, a staple in his hometown of Milwaukee, and struggled with his weight, experiencing problems with diabetes in later years.

Majerus coached college basketball for 25 years and only had one losing season. His final masterpiece came last year when he transformed St. Louis from a middle-of-the-road Atlantic 10 program into a 26-win team that made its first NCAA appearance in 12 years and pushed top seeded Michigan State to the limit in a third-round game in Columbus.

Majerus said Nov. 19 that he wouldn’t return to St. Louis because of the heart condition. Majerus had a history of heart problems dating to 1989, when he underwent bypass surgery. He had a stent inserted in August 2011 in Salt Lake City and missed some games in the 2011-12 season after injuring his leg in a collision with players.

Majerus was 95-69 in five seasons at St. Louis and had a 25-year record of 517-216. 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. He took 12 teams to the NCAA Tournament and four to the NIT.

Majerus was born on Feb. 17, 1948 in Sheboygan, Wis. His late father, Ray, was the secetary-treasurer of the United Auto Workers and an activist, and Majerus walked in many civil rights marches in Alabama during his childhood. Majerus attended Marquette, where he was a walk-on in 1967 but was cut from the team before his sophomore year. He stayed on as a student assistant.

He graduated in 1970 with a degree in history and began coaching eighth graders at St. Sebastian Grade School, then freshman boys at Marquette High before moving up to become an assistant with the Warriors for the next 12 years. He coached under his mentor, Al McGuire, until 1977, when Marquette won a national championship, and later under Hank Raymonds, until taking over as head coach himself in 1983.

His three-year record at Marquette was 56-35 (61.5%) and his best season came in 1984-85, when the Warriors went 20-11. After three years as head coach at Marquette, he became an assistant coach with the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks for the 1986-87 season.

Majerus coached Ball State for the next two years, finishing with a record of 43-17 before going to Utah.

Majerus enjoyed his biggest success there, coaching his 1998 Utes team, featuring point guard Andre Miller, to a brilliant win over top-ranked and defending national champion Arizona in the NCAA West Regional finals. He was greatly affected by the loss to Kentucky in the title game and claimed to be able to recall the last six minutes of play by play. While at Utah, he was known for living out of a Marriott hotel, and celebrated the fact that “there's clean towels, my bed is turned down every night and there’s a mint on my pillow, no matter what psychological or emotional problems the maid is going through.”

Majerus left Utah in January 2004 after 15 seasons and 323 victories, in part to get control of his health, and became an analyst for ESPN. That December, he was hired by USC on a contract worth $5 million. Majerus gave a humorous press conference the day of his hire, but said, “I hope I die here. I hope I coach there the rest of my life.” However, he resigned five days later in a tear-stained press conference, apologizing to the university and explaining that his health was still a concern.

“I wanted this job so bad I was in denial where my health was,” he said. “I realized USC wasn't getting the guy they hired.” He was also concerned about relocating because of his now-deceased mother’s deteriorating health in Milwaukee.

Majerus worked for ESPN from 2004 through 2007 before accepting the job at St. Louis, signing a six -year deal.

But his heart was always in Milwaukee, where he grew up in coaching.

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