It's been years now, maybe as many as 20, but once upon a time Rick Majerus said this and people, including us, thought it was hilarious: "win or lose, I eat my ass off."
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As it turns out, it was prophetic. The struggle Majerus fought with food ultimately cost him his life: he died waiting for a heart transplant.
And what a shame, because he was one of the more brilliant basketball minds to come along. More than that, once you got past his harsh side, he was a very decent man who really looked out for the underdogs in life.
He was also famously devoted to his mother, who died not all that long ago of cancer. Majerus, unlike a lot of coaches, made it clear that she was his priority. We're not saying that other coaches don't love their moms, but rather that they don't feel they can take their foot off the gas for a minute. Majerus never bought that. His mother was his priority and he was at her side.
His finest moment as a coach, in our judgment, came when Utah defeated UNC in the Final Four and Makhtar N'daiye falsely accused one of his Utah players of making racist comments during the game. Majerus sat by his player and said he would have never said such a thing and that he would resign if it were true.
N'daiye ended up exposed as a liar and wrote a half-hearted apology admitting as much.
Majerus was certainly not all sunshine and daisies.
Some of his players were very unhappy with his harshness in practice and games. He would tell you exactly what he thought and it wasn't always pretty. When he was doing TV work he made an unfortunate off-color remark about an actress - was it Ashley Judd? - and seemed to imply something about self-pleasure. It was a cringeworthy moment if ever there was one.
But from all accounts, he was a warm and kind man, at least when players weren't irritating him. Yet, according to his friend, St. Louis reporter Bernie Miklasz, Majerus was a haunted man and a man with a deadly compulsion.
Majerus was no fool. He knew he had a family history of heart disease. It killed his father, his grandmother and, Miklasz says, several uncles.
Yet in spite of that, Majerus couldn't stop eating his ass off. Otherwise, he did the right things: he exercised, he worked on his health, he had great doctors.
But he rarely put himself in a situation to succeed. At Utah, the batchelor Majerus famously lived in a hotel.Â Where do you suppose he ate?
Despite his genius, Majerus also had a habit of wearing out his welcome. When he left Utah, the school was ready to part ways. At St. Louis, when he took his leave of absence, it was generally understood that the school wouldn't be upset if he didn't return.
When you add it up, the occasional harshness towards his players, the evident frustration when he ran up against the reality that genius is not transferable, the various appetites and desires which were turned towards food, the great kindness towards the ailing and the afflicted, the absolute devotion to his mother and to many of his players, many of whom he treated as sons, what we see is this: a brilliant man, a guy who could coach circles around just about anyone, but whose inability to control his appetite ultimately doomed him. There's nothing yet we can do about having a bad gene, but we can modify our behavior to accommodate it.
Majerus, for all his intelligence, for all his ability to understand and motivate young men to work incredibly well in groups, could not apply his psychological insights to himself and his struggles. He found no accomodation.
It's a great loss. As formidable as his coaching ability was, his ability to connect with people, to empathize with underdogs and those who must overcome, that could have led him into a second career. His humanitarian impulses could have found a wonderful outlet and he could have helped a lot of people.
We suspect that at heart Rick Majerus was a lonely man, a perfectionist who never fully understood just how much people respected and valued him.