Obituary: Rick Majeris / Colorful college basketball coach won 517 games

Feb. 17, 1948 -- Dec. 1, 2012

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Rick Majerus, who never headed the elite programs in college basketball but who became a leading coach, winning more than 500 major-college games, died Saturday in Los Angeles. He was 64.

His death was announced by St. Louis University, where he had been the coach. He had taken a leave of absence in August for medical treatment.

Jon Huntsman Sr., a Utah businessman and longtime friend, told The Salt Lake Tribune that Mr. Majerus had been awaiting a heart transplant.

Mr. Majerus, a passionate figure with an irreverent personality, coached the University of Utah to the 1998 NCAA tournament final and had only one losing team in 25 seasons, at Marquette, Ball State, Utah and St. Louis.

He compiled a career record of 517-216 and coached in 12 NCAA tournaments.

His players had not usually been recruited by high-profile colleges, but he molded them with long and demanding practices. His life was basketball. He was married briefly in the '80s but had no children, and he lived in hotels.

He was best known for his time at Utah, where he roamed the sidelines in a white sweater, a balding, bulky presence.

His third-seeded team defeated Arkansas, Arizona and North Carolina in the 1998 NCAA tournament, then led Kentucky by 10 points at halftime before losing, 78-69, in the national final.

Coaching Utah from 1989 to 2004, he had three players who were first-round National Basketball Association draft picks -- Keith Van Horn, Michael Doleac and Andre Miller -- and his teams had a record of 323-95.

Mr. Majerus was eminently quotable. When he was introduced in April 2007 as the coach at St. Louis, a Jesuit university, its president, the Rev. Lawrence Biondi, touched on what he felt was the Latin origin of Mr. Majerus' name -- "Magnus, meaning great."

Majerus responded, "The name is really from Luxembourg, and I think it means sausage eater."

His 1999 memoir, written with Gene Wojciechowski and telling how he devised plays at a restaurant before the NCAA final against Kentucky, was titled "My Life on a Napkin."

Mr. Majerus was born on Feb. 17, 1948, in Sheboygan, Wis. He grew up in Milwaukee and played freshman basketball at Marquette, his hometown university, but he could not make the varsity, coached by Al McGuire.

After graduating from Marquette, he was an assistant coach there for 12 seasons, then the head coach for three seasons.

He was an assistant for the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks in 1986-87, then coached at Ball State for two seasons before going to Utah.

In December 2004, he was hired as the coach at Southern California, to take over the following April for an interim coach. But he reneged on the deal a few days later, citing health issues, although he also did not want to be far from his ailing mother in Milwaukee.

Mr. Majerus worked as a broadcaster for ESPN before being named coach at St. Louis. He took the university to the 2012 NCAA tournament, its first appearance in the tournament since 2000.

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