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The Life and Times of RICK MAJERUS
January 21, 2008
He's funny, charming and loved by many of his former players, but something about the game he adores brings out the worst in the new Saint Louis coach
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January 21, 2008

The Life And Times Of Rick Majerus

He's funny, charming and loved by many of his former players, but something about the game he adores brings out the worst in the new Saint Louis coach

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Another player remembers Majerus calling him up to his hotel room on various occasions, and "he'd answer the door in his towel and I'd come in and the towel would fall off and it was like nothing had happened. He'd just be standing there buck naked. One year he had this lower-back injury, and he would have the trainer massage it with ultrasound. But instead of just lowering his pants a little bit, Majerus would pull his pants down to his ankles and sit in a chair and coach us. Sometimes he'd be like, 'Guys, bring it in, take a knee.' We'd come in, and we're just like, No way this is happening."

None of these players believes that his habit of dropping trou was sexual. In a sense, the players look upon it as their coach's greatest sight gag, made even loonier by his deadpan expression. "He's oblivious," Burgess says. "He just doesn't care."

Indeed, Majerus doesn't see why anyone would look at his casual nudity as odd. "I mean, we all have foibles," he says. "Talk to my two secretaries [at Utah]; I'm very close to them. [One time] I had to get a colonoscopy. Kelly [Miller] took me down for it and then took me back to the hotel, because you can't drive [after the procedure], and she undressed me and got me on the bed. I didn't ask her to; she took care of me. My last secretary, Whitney [Lindgren]? People used to walk in my room or the coaches' room, and Whitney would be walking on my back. She was about 100 pounds, and I told her, 'Here's the vertebrae and here's what we're trying to align.' Or she'd sit on my back with her butt facing my feet, because it flattened out whatever those things are. I used to look at film while she'd do it."

Yet there have been instances, with even his favorite players, in which Majerus's behavior was decidedly odd. Doleac spent his first three years at Utah shell-shocked by Majerus's tirades, his knack for calling his players "c----." It didn't help that once during the 1995--96 season Majerus got so desperate—to make a point, to lighten the mood—that he flashed his team. It was during a morning shootaround. Majerus kept telling Doleac that he needed to keep six inches between himself and his opponent in the post. When Doleac was caught shortly after leaning on his man, the coach erupted. "'Jesus f------ Christ, Doleac! When a guy catches the ball in the post, you gap him six inches!'" Doleac recalls Majerus yelling. "Then he turns to the guys sitting on the baseline and says, 'Six f------ inches,' and he says, 'the size of the average white d---!' and pulls it out. That story spread like wildfire, but at the time it's not funny. At the time you're terrified."

Yet in retrospect Doleac considers that stunt harmless. What galls him is that Majerus's four-hour practices drained all fun out of the game, that Majerus abruptly decided that backup Jordie McTavish couldn't play and ran him out of the program. "I love Majerus to death; he's a friend to this day," Doleac says. "That doesn't mean I think he's done everything right."

Doleac describes the huddle during a Sweet 16 struggle with Stanford in the 1997 NCAA tournament in which Majerus grabbed Mottola's testicles and said, "Have some f------ balls, Hanno!" That, Doleac says, "did cross the line." Majerus, he adds, "hit me in the chest once. Whoom!" But Doleac can't help defending his old coach. "It's not like he was swinging at me. He was mad, and he just popped me in the chest hard. Could you say that crossed the line? Of course. Did it really? Was he trying to molest Hanno? No, he was mad and he did something impulsively and it got the point across and we wound up winning. He didn't choke a guy."

McTavish, who played at Utah for two years before transferring to Idaho State in '98, says, "He punched me a lot. Other coaches would get in big trouble for doing that. The fact that he could grab a young man's balls in a timeout or punch you in the chest numerous times ... that's just unbelievable."

Majerus says that all players, particularly disgruntled ones like McTavish, embellish their war stories. And it's true that semantics come into play; when pressed, the former players describe Majerus's "punch" as a short jab. "I don't think I ever hit a kid," Majerus says. "I've pointed at a guy's chest, yeah. But all of a sudden I'm hitting guys? That's not me."

And it's significant that in 15 years no Utah player complained to Majerus's superiors about physical force. "I've never heard that," says Hill, the AD who hired Majerus in 1989. "I've heard stories that seemed crazy, and I would follow up on them. There's times you need to discipline your coach, but you do it in private rather than in public."

Regardless, it's clear that something about the game triggers something in the man. He's earthy, irreverent, insightful and blunt. Basketball amplifies those qualities—sometimes to extremes—and many who know Majerus have been left wondering, What happened to the funny guy, the one who wells up at the mention of his dad? "It would be a lifetime job trying to figure him out," says one of the coach's longtime associates. "I can't explain him. I can't reconcile the two people you see."

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