On just his first day on the job, Rick Majerus, the brand-new University of Utah basketball coach, showed that he certainly isn't your average, ordinary, run-of-themill basketball coach - and it has nothing to do with his above average (280 pounds) size.
As he talked to an assemblage of media and Ute boosters at the Huntsman Center lounge Tuesday, he quoted Robert Frost, he talked about the new fusion project at the U., and he discussed at length the importance of education for his players. One minute he had everyone rolling in the aisles with one of his many funny stories - the next minute he could hardly speak, getting choked up talking about his late father.Majerus, who signed a multi-year contract for an undisclosed amount of money, had a rather busy first day on the job, meeting dozens of new people at the press conference, meeting with the remaining players on the Ute team late Tuesday afternoon and meeting with a couple of local high school coaches and at least one prep player. He was set to head out Wednesday morning on a three-day recruiting trip to see such local sights as Castle Dale and Richfield with Ute assistant Larry Eustachy.
But before doing all that, Majerus gave a preview of what everyone can expect from him as the Ute coach in a 40-minute press conference and later in a personal interview.
He said he had a very difficult time leaving Ball State, where he had a bonafide Top Twenty team coming back next year and he said Utah was the only job he was interested in, although he had several other offers.
"I was not looking to leave Ball State and would not have left there had this opportunity not become available," he said. "I was very interested in Utah and they were very interested in me."
He was familiar with the area because of his association with Dick Hunsaker, the former Weber State assistant who was his top assistant at Ball State, and Jeff Jonas, the former University of Utah star, whom he coached in high school.
"I've always wanted to live in the West and this is kind of a dream for me here," he added. "Whenever I've visited here I've always enjoyed it. The people here are very genuine and family oriented and that had an appeal to me. I believe the quality of your life is directly correlated to the quality of people with whom you live your life. I think I will enjoy it here immensely."
Again and again during the press conference Majerus talked about academics and the importance of education of his players. One of the criticisms of the Ute program in the past was a lack of emphasis on academics.
"I was very fortunate to have a family that placed a premium on education," said Majerus, whose father never finished high school. "I would say that my No. 1 priority would be that the players can articulate their ideas, they write coherently and concisely, learn time management and speaking skills and understand these things will place them in a position for the rest of their lives. Those are the things that I want the players to understand first and foremost."
At Marquette, Majerus' players had a 93 percent graduation rate and although players such as Maurice Lucas, Jim Chones and Glenn Rivers all left school early for the NBA under hardship rules, all came back and earned their degrees.
"I want to win, but I won't compromise academic success of the players to win and they'll understand that," he said. "Those kids will hear ad nauseum about the value of education. I want these kids to graduate and to be good representatives of the University of Utah, their families and themselves.
"I care about them first in terms of developing as people and then I'll worry about the jump shot. That jump shot will leave you when you're 22."
His reference to Robert Frost came when he talked about why he left Marquette after three years as head coach to become an assistant to Don Nelson with the Milwaukee Bucks.
"I'm a great believers in "The Road Not Taken," that great Frost poem," he said. "I think a lot of men do lead lives of quiet desperation and I thought that if I hadn't taken that pro opportunity I may some day look back and say `I wonder what the NBA would have been like.' Now I know what the NBA was like and base my judgments relative to my experiences in the NBA."
He used the recent big news at the university concerning fusion as a set-up for one of his "fat" jokes.
"This fusion thing kind of interested me - from a distance. I said if they really wanted to make it a done deal they should have me sit on it and that would fuse it all."
Although he doesn't want to work in the chemistry department, Majerus said he would like to spend part of his time at the university as a teacher.
"I'm hoping that I'll be allowed to teach a course here," he said. "I'd like to teach the psychology of coaching. At Ball State it was kind of funny - I had coached at the grammar school level, the high school level, the college level and pro level, conducted clinics in all 50 states and two foreign countries and the chairman of the P.E. department said I wasn't qualified to teach."
Majerus compared Utah to Indiana as the two most basketball-oriented states in the country and said he'll concentrate on recruiting Utah players.
"I want to first establish Utah as our base. I want to look at Utah kids first and then whatever kids we can find. I think it's special for kids to stay here and play in front of mom and dad."
He said he really doesn't have a handle on the team he is inheriting from former coach Lynn Archibald.
"I've looked a couple of films but I don't have a great grasp on the team. I'm more concerned about the level of character than the level of play," he said.
"This year I have only five days to go and recruit so I'll have to work with the hand I've been dealt. Then next year I can really go at it. Hey, I just got here. It's going to take three or four years to build a program."