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Mike Sorensen: University of Utah should take time to honor Rick Majerus, Ron McBride

Published: Sunday, Dec. 18 2011 7:52 p.m. MST

Utah's Rod Talaeai (75), coach Ron McBride, center, and other Utes celebrate an overtime win in 1998.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The most successful college basketball coach the state of Utah has ever seen, was honored nine days ago with a framed jersey, an autographed basketball and a brief ceremony in front of appreciative fans.

No, Rick Majerus wasn't honored by the University of Utah, but by Saint Louis University for winning the 500th game of his career.

Never mind the fact that just 79 of his victories have come at Saint Louis, where he began coaching in April of 2007. About two-thirds of those 500 victories came at Utah, where Majerus coached for 15 seasons (1989-2004).

Since abruptly resigning late in the 2004 season, Majerus has never been honored for his accomplishments at Utah, where besides winning 323 games (losing only 95), he took his team to the Sweet 16 four times, including one trip to the Elite Eight and another to the NCAA Finals in 1998.

Soon after leaving Utah, Majerus became an analyst with ESPN. He actually took the job at USC before backing out four days later citing his mother's health as a reason. He flirted with a couple more coaching jobs before landing the Saint Louis job four years ago.

After three so-so seasons, followed by the first losing season of his career in 2010-11, Majerus is enjoying his best season in St. Louis with a 10-1 record so far.

When he won No. 500 on Dec. 10, in typical Majerus fashion, the coach nearly missed the ceremony because he was upset with his team's performance in a lackluster 10-point victory over Illinois-Springfield.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Majerus "made a beeline for the locker room" after the victory, while his players stood at midcourt waiting to present him with an autographed ball and members of the dance team stood at the baseline with a framed SLU jersey with number 500 on it.

Finally, his assistant coaches were able to coax him back to the floor..

Later Majerus said, "I was mad about the game, and I wasn't going to come back." He said he was upset with how his team had played and was acting like a "petulant little kid."

While at Utah, Majerus was famous for missing his radio or TV shows or keeping media waiting for more than an hour on occasion. But he was very good at winning games and has never been properly honored for his accomplishments since he left nearly eight years ago.

When I asked Utah athletics director Chris Hill last week, he was emphatic that the U. has plans to honor Majerus, although no time has been set.

"We've talked about it a lot and it's the right thing to do," Hill said. "We have to decide what is appropriate and meaningful."

Hill said figuring out the right time is problematic as long as Majerus is coaching college basketball. Some people thought this might be his final season after last year's 12-19 mark and losing assistant Alex Jensen in the offseason. But with his team playing so well, perhaps he'll keep going another couple of years.

I've always wondered what Majerus' reaction would be to being honored by the U. Although he has made several visits back to the state, it's usually been as unobtrusive as possible with no fanfare or interviews. For the most part, he's cut off ties with all but a few Utah folks.

I would have called to get Majerus' take on having his white sweater or whatever hoisted to the Huntsman Center rafters, but I knew what the response would be.

Over the 10-year period I covered Majerus, I must have talked to him at least 100 times on the phone, usually in the wee hours of the morning at his hotel and we got along fine. But when I called him for some comments on a story on the 10-year anniversary of the 1998 NCAA runner-up team, I got 30 seconds with him with a "tell everyone I'm doing fine" before the click.

This was a couple of weeks after an Albuquerque reporter told me he spent close to an hour visiting with Majerus, who reminisced about the best restaurants in town and his games against the Lobos.

So I hope when the time is right that Majerus will happily return to Utah where a sold-out Huntsman Center will give the big man his due for his remarkable 15-year run at Utah.

Besides Majerus, the Utes also need to honor Ron McBride, who coached at Utah for nearly the same period of time as Majerus although with not the same degree of success.

Honoring McBride should be much easier.

Despite an initial bitterness, McBride has generally been on good terms with the university and is proud of the groundwork he laid for the Ute football program that has seen so much success over the past decade.

Hill said the U. also has plans to honor McBride and I'm guessing it may come as early as next season now that McBride has retired from Weber State.

It's about time to honor two coaches who brought so much to the University of Utah. Ute fans should look forward to it.

Email: sor@desnews.com

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