Former Utah Utes coach Rick Majerus dead from heart problems at age 64

Published: Saturday, Dec. 1 2012 7:35 p.m. MST

Rick Majerus led Utah to the NCAA Tournament 10 times, and to the title game once, during his 15 years as coach.

Associated Press

Rick Majerus, who became nationally renowned for his basketball success at the University of Utah over a 15-year period, died Saturday at age 64 in Los Angeles.

Majerus had been in grave health for several weeks with heart disease and was reportedly awaiting a heart transplant when he died.

Hired by Utah in April of 1989, Majerus led the Utes to some of their highest heights in his stay at Utah, including 10 conference championships and highlighted by a runner-up finish at the 1998 NCAA Tournament.

Known for his eccentricities, including living in a hotel his entire time in Utah, Majerus took the Utes to 10 NCAA Tournaments where his teams had a 17-10 record. Besides the NCAA Final in 1998 when the Utes lost to Kentucky after leading by 10 at halftime, Majerus coached the Utes to an Elite Eight finish and two other trips to the Sweet Sixteen. His teams advanced the second round nine times.

He resigned at Utah in the middle of the 2003-04 season due to health concerns and worked as an analyst at ESPN for three years before taking the head coaching job at Saint Louis University. In August, the university announced that Majerus would be taking a leave of absence this year, and then two weeks ago it was announced that Majerus would not return as the Billikens coach due to his declining health.

Utah director of athletics, Chris Hill, hired Majerus during his second year on the job and saw Utah basketball grow in success during the next 15 years.

"All of us in the University of Utah community are deeply saddened," Hill said in a statement. "Rick left a lasting legacy at the University of Utah, not only for his incredible success and the national prominence he brought to our basketball program, but also for the tremendous impact he made on the young men who were fortunate enough to play on his teams. His standard of excellence extended beyond the basketball court and into the academic and personal success of his players. He will be deeply missed and we grieve for his family and all of his friends."

One of the first local players Majerus recruited was Jimmy Soto, a point guard from Judge Memorial High. He was the starter for his first Sweet Sixteen team in 1990-91.

"I enjoyed my time with Rick," said Soto, who played from 1990-93. "I didn't always agree with him and how he handled things, but I have no complaints. He was more than just about X's and O's. He put guys in the best situations to succeed. He was definitely unique."

Current Utah assistant Tommy Connor is one of the few people who has both played for Majerus and coached alongside him. He played for Utah in Majerus' first year and then coached with him for seven years in the 1990s.

"I feel like I'm one of the lucky ones who had the opportunity to play for coach Majerus and coach with him," he said. "I had an incredible eight years of learning from what I consider one of the greatest basketball teachers and minds our game has ever seen. It's a sad day."

Bill Marcroft, who was the Utah play-by-play announcer for four decades, calls Majerus "the best coach I ever worked with," referring to Majerus' ability as a practice coach, recruiter and tactician.

He also called Majerus, "the most difficult" coach he worked with. But after getting over the initial intimidation, he learned to work with him and it said it became easier over the years.

Marcroft also saw a different side to Majerus, which many others also witnessed.

"Sometimes he was saccharine sweet, especially around kids," Marcroft said.

Even though Majerus was sometimes hard on him, Marcroft recalled that when he was in the hospital with Legionnaires Disease for a few weeks in 1994, Majerus would come up to visit him at nearly every night.

Try out the new DeseretNews.com design!
try beta learn more
Get The Deseret News Everywhere