EDITOR’S NOTE: Rick Majerus, who compiled a 517-214 record in 25 years as a college head at Marquette, Ball State, Utah and Saint Louis, died Saturday at the age of 64. One of his most memorable wins came against No. 1 seed and defending national champion Arizona in 1998 — for UA fans, the infamous “triangle-and-two” game. The following is a Corky Simpson column that appeared in the Tucson Citizen that day.
By Corky Simpson
March 21, 1998
ANAHEIM, Calif. – The vastness of Rick Majerus is something to behold.
The Utah coach strode into the interview room at the Arrowhead Pond yesterday, both chins held high, pulled up a couple of chairs and sat down, munching from a bag of potato chips.
One of college basketball’s biggest names has one of its biggest bodies.
Majerus’ bald head is trimmed with blond hair, giving him the appearance of a giant peeled egg in a nest of straw.
He admits to weighing around 300 pounds, but isn’t telling whether it’s above or below that figure.
The man who sends his team against Arizona today in the West Regional finals is charming, funny, bright and passionately in love with basketball.
It is not beyond the realm of possibility that he might join Lute Olson one day soon in a series of funny bank commercials. Majerus has been courted by Arizona State since early last fall, as a replacement for the departed Bill Frieder and the interim coach, Don Newman.
The Wildcat and Ute coaches may have unwittingly given us a preview of the ”Lute and Rick Show” yesterday in pregame interview sessions.
Asked to compare his style with Majerus’, Olson quipped: ”He eats a lot more pizza.”
When Majerus was asked how he differed from Olson, he responded: ”I don’t have a lot of combs.”
Mentioned for virtually every major college coaching job that comes open, Majerus said, ”I don’t go after them. I don’t look for opportunities. But I don’t want to miss out on any.
”I have no intention to leave Utah, and right now I’m not even thinking about it, but you have to be willing to listen to people.”
He does admit there’s a school where he eventually wants to coach: St. Mary’s in Moraga, Calif.
”I love small Catholic schools, and that would be a wonderful place to live, if I could afford it,” Majerus said.
Afford it, indeed. There is speculation that a stumbling block in Arizona State’s attempt to lure Majerus to Utah is the $700,000 contract he has with the Reebok shoe company. ASU is not a Reebok school.
”St. Mary’s would be the ideal place to finish out the last seven or eight years of your career,” Majerus said.
He is 50, and where he spends the next seven or eight years will be determined at the end of the current season.
Majerus is one of the most entertaining coaches in the country, in addition to being one of the sport’s brightest teachers.
A classic story about the Ute coach concerns a coaching clinic he participated in, at Cincinnati. He left his hotel room to go for a jog – even at 300 pounds, he jogs – and walked into a lobby jammed with people.
Somebody told him that former Beatle Paul McCartney was at the hotel. Majerus nodded and started walking through the crowd.
”Hey, isn’t that guy somebody famous?” asked one of the people, pointing to Majerus.
”Yeah, answered another guy. Didn’t he used to be one of the Three Stooges?”
Majerus told reporters yesterday his 21-year-old sophomore forward, Hanno Mottola, from Helsinki, Finland, ”is like E.T. (the extra terrestrial) . . . he’s 7,500 miles from home.”
Today’s game figures to be a clash in styles, pitting Arizona’s lightning quick transition game and pressure defense against Utah’s deliberate style, its toughess and size on the inside.
”We’re facing a very good team, the defending national champions,” Majerus said. ”Arizona is similar to Kentucky, but you have to play somebody good at this point. There are no easy games left.”
Proud of his athletes’ academic success, Majerus said he wasn’t that great a student in his days at Marquette University. ”But I had the best peripheral vision in physics and math,” he said. ”Forget Magic Johnson – I could see two papers away.”