MIKE NIETO: Majerus was more than a coach

2012-12-07T19:00:00Z 2012-12-08T04:46:08Z MIKE NIETO: Majerus was more than a coachMike Nieto Prep Beat nwitimes.com
December 07, 2012 7:00 pm  • 

Rick Majerus is being remembered for his humor and one-liners, but the former Marquette, Ball State, Utah and Saint Louis University men's basketball coach was more than what people saw or heard in a 30-second video clip.

Majerus died Dec. 1 at age 64 from heart disease and his funeral is at 11:30 a.m. today in Milwaukee with the Mass at Marquette University's Gesu Church.

If you ever had the chance to talk with or know Rick, he was a very intense competitor who was just a great guy. Rick would do anything to help you, whether offering advice or just a few words. That is the part that doesn't often get shown. He was a very intelligent man who taught more than basketball. He loved the game of basketball, loved to coach and teach the game as well as life skills.

"He was a gym rat," former Marquette star Lloyd Walton said. "I mean that as a compliment. Back in the day, he would spend countless hours looking for talent and the thing with Rick, he was as sincere and honest of a person as there was."

Walton, a Chicago Heights native who starred at Mount Carmel and Marquette and played with the Milwaukee Bucks and Kansas City Kings in the NBA, is now a career counselor for the NBA Players Association.

"Rick was the reason I went to Marquette," Walton said. "I was all set to go to Jacksonville (University) and he drove down. I think we had a pizza and he bought a six-pack of Coke and talked. He got (then MU coach) Al (McGuire) on the phone. The rest was history.

"Funny how recruiting was then?"

All three coaches from Marquette's 1977 NCAA championship team are gone. McGuire died in 2001, Hank Raymonds in 2010 and now Majerus. He succeeded Raymonds in 1983-84 and had three years at his college alma mater before becoming an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks for a year. Here is a guy who won over 70 percent of his games and took Utah to the NCAA championship in 1998 before falling to Kentucky. He also brought excitement and success to Ball State's program in the late 1980s.

When I was a student at Marquette in the 1980s, you could always talk to Rick and he was more concerned with how you were doing. If he knew what town you were from, he could recite a list of great basketball players or a great restaurant. He was good people. He could rib you, but he could also take a ribbing and often made fun of himself. His coaching philosophy class was popular and it was about a philosophy, not Xs and Os. I still remember him saying the most important thing in life is having a philosophy and sticking to it.

Despite his fame, Majerus remained a regular, down-to-earth guy. He loved Milwaukee and Wisconsin. In the sports world, where, as McGuire used to say, coaches come across as the designer suit, button-down shirt and tie type of person, Majerus was the guy with the sweater and open-necked shirt. He was a breath of fresh air who spoke his mind.

The Marquette men's team will wear a special patch at today's game with rival Wisconsin and will wear the patch the rest of the season.

Rick, you will be missed. You left us way too soon, but you left a good mark on a lot of people.

 This column is solely the writer's opinion. Reach him at mike.nieto@nwi.com.

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