Brad Rock: Utah Utes' tribute is a fitting honor to Majerus' winning legacy
SALT LAKE CITY —
Up close, the sweater will look huge, Majerian in its proportions. It will cover considerable territory, hanging from the ceiling of the Huntsman Center.
Rick Majerus himself covered a lot of territory in other ways, too — philosophically, psychologically and statistically. The man lived and loomed large on the basketball landscape of the University of Utah. So in memory of him, the school will have a moment of silence before Wednesday's game against Boise State. Utah players will wear red patches with his initials. Later this year, the sweater will be unveiled.
A sweater in the rafters is a little unorthodox, but so was Majerus.
Seems like a perfect fit.
Overall, it will be a night to remember Utah's significant past. Current coach Larry Krystkowiak certainly has a big sweater to fill. He can take a small step by beating BSU. As it turns out, the Broncos represent more than just a big blue turf. They beat Creighton and frightened Michigan State. They're 6-1, a record even their football team might appreciate.
Then there are the Utes, who seem to be making measurable gains. With a 5-2 record against weak competition, it's hard to say how much they're improving. Nevertheless, they're just one win from tying last year's mark for victories.
This week, the U. decided to honor the flawed but brilliant former coach, who took his team to 10 NCAA Tournaments, including one championship game, one Elite Eight and two Sweet 16s. The decision has been a long time coming. Majerus and Utah's administration had their differences. But recently the school requested he come back to be recognized. Scheduling and health issues interfered, so it never happened.
Now, with Majerus having passed away on Saturday, there is no reason to wait. So they'll hang the signature sweater alongside the revered jerseys of Utah history: Andre Miller, Keith Van Horn, Danny Vranes, Andrew Bogut, Billy McGill, Vern Gardner and Arnie Ferrin.
It will be hard for fans not to picture him lurking the sidelines, mopping and massaging his brow. Under Majerus, the Utes became nationally known. They ranked 12th nationally in all-time wins to start this season, 14th in NCAA appearances.
Still, you have to ask: Should they be honoring Majerus?
This isn't a Miss Congeniality award.
It's no secret Majerus was often at odds with those he opposed, as well as those at his own school. He clashed with athletic personnel and fellow coaches on issues ranging from court time to down time. Some left the program. He had a vocabulary like a longshoreman and an appetite to match.
But he won. Boy, did he win. Ten conference championships, total.
Some would say his sweater doesn't belong there because of his conflicts, or because he was sanctioned by the NCAA. But he wasn't Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, who many believe cheated by using performance-enhancing drugs. He did get slapped by the NCAA for committing such violations as supplying milk and cookies during a film session, feeding players at a tailgate party, taking recruits to a booster's home and providing a plane ticket to attend a friend's funeral. His biggest violation was (surprise!) over-practicing.
What else from a guy who studied game film half the night?
Utah ended up on probation, though all were classified as secondary violations. But he did graduate players while keeping the Utes winning. Also, he gave Utah a big, bold face. The national writers loved him, but more importantly, so did the NCAA selection committee. Utah was as automatic as a stoplight.
Majerus deserves to be honored because he won 323 games, none of them with top-10 recruits. Ty Cobb was allegedly a jerk, or worse, but he has a statue in Detroit for his deeds. Michael Jordan, whose statue is in Chicago, gambled on golf and cheated on his wife. Even the unpopular George Steinbrenner has a monument in Tampa.
Imperfect men, yet sports figures to be remembered.
Thus, Majerus will soon be in the Crimson Club Hall of Fame and the sweater will be hanging high. Which is the right thing to happen. It makes little sense to pretend he never came through Utah. It's doubtful any future Utah coach will accomplish more.
By commemorating him, fans can remember that at one time Utah had a nationally renowned program. Who knows, maybe the sight of a crewneck sweater will give the current Utes something to shoot for.
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