Majerus hospitalized, ready to retire

Issues with heart, weight push Utah coach toward making this season his last

College Basketball

January 29, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Rick Majerus, one of the most respected and colorful college basketball coaches during his 15 seasons at the University of Utah, took his weight problem and health issues seriously, but not himself.

"Some guys smoke, some guys drink, some guys chase women - I'm a big barbecue sauce guy," Majerus told an interviewer years ago. "But the truth is, I'm really not that sensitive about my weight. I kind of laugh at it."

Majerus isn't laughing anymore. It was announced yesterday that Majerus, 55, will resign at the end of the season after being hospitalized Tuesday for an undisclosed heart condition in Santa Barbara, Calif.

The announcement came a day after Majerus experienced severe chest pains while eating dinner in Salt Lake City. On the advice of his cardiologist, Majerus was flown to California later that night.

"Rick has done a wonderful job as our basketball coach for the past 15 years," said Chris Hill, Utah's athletic director. "He has taken this program to national prominence and his student-athletes do well academically and conduct themselves in a way that is a credit to the University of Utah."

Majerus will be replaced on an interim basis by assistant coach Kerry Rupp. It is unclear whether Majerus will return to the Utes' bench this season, but a close friend said that the coach's decision to resign at the end of the season is definite.

"Health permitting, Rick would like to come back and take this team as far as it can go," said Bob Henderson, who is also the university's legal counsel. "But in any event, under any circumstances, the Utes' last game this season is Rick's last game as Utah head men's basketball coach."

Under Majerus, the Utes compiled a 323-95 record and went to the NCAA tournament 10 times, reaching the Sweet 16 four times, the Elite Eight in 1997 and 1998. Utah lost to Kentucky in the 1998 NCAA championship game in San Antonio.

This season, Utah is 15-5 and has lost its past two games, one of which Majerus missed while attending the funeral of a former player's stepfather.

Majerus had undergone bypass surgery after coaching six games during his first season (1989-90) at Utah. He also took a leave of absence after one game three years ago and missed the rest of the season while dealing with health issues as well as to take care of his sick mother.

Since returning to coaching for the 2001-2002 season, Majerus continued to battle weight problems and the stress brought on by an internal investigation of the school's entire athletic department that resulted in several minor NCAA violations for the basketball team and more serious ones for the football team.

The infractions for the basketball team included Majerus buying a player a hamburger - the rule has since been changed to allow coaches to do that as long as it is documented - and giving players food at a tailgate party as well as milk and cookies during film study.

Majerus was recently cleared by the school after a complaint was filed two years ago by a former player, Lance Allred, who claimed he was berated by the coach about a partial hearing loss. Allred, who transferred to Weber State, told the Salt Lake Tribune that Majerus used offensive language in berating him.

Mostly, Majerus was known for his self-deprecating sense of humor, often making fun of his weight problem and bachelor lifestyle. Majerus, who is divorced, lived in a suite of the same campus hotel since he arrived at Utah from Ball State.

"My problem is that I live like that guy on The Odd Couple, and it isn't the neat guy," Majerus told the Los Angeles Times in a 1995 interview. "I go into my room and I find pieces of pizza underneath laundry."

Yet his weight problem - the 6-foot Majerus often saw his weight balloon to more than 300 pounds - did cause something of a dilemma.

"I do kind of have a hard time telling my team to get in shape," said Majerus, who often jogged four miles a day and once finished a marathon weighing 270 pounds. "It's indicative of a lack of self-restraint, a lack of self-discipline, no question about it."

Given his sense of humor, it isn't surprising that Majerus was brought into college coaching by another of the sport's all-time personalities. The late Al McGuire hired Majerus to be his assistant at Marquette in 1971. Majerus later coached in his native Milwaukee with the Bucks under Don Nelson, and in recent years returned to his hometown to run a summer basketball camp for disadvantaged children.

"There isn't anything he doesn't bring to the party," Nelson once said. "He has everything going for him. He's a great recruiter, a great teacher during games and a great practice coach. And his work ethic is second to no one I've ever met."

The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times contributed to this article.

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