Now that a couple of weeks have passed, and the euphoria of hiring a coach who went 29-3 last season has leveled off, a lot of people are wondering just how tough the adjustment is going to be for new University of Utah Coach Rick Majerus, a man who has spent most of his life as far Back East as Wisconsin and Indiana. A man who doesn't know that "you bet" doesn't mean making a run to Vegas. In short, a man who hasn't been immersed, or even introduced, to the cultural infrastructure out here in the Utah West, particularly not to the basketball portion thereof.
In the spirit of Utah hospitality, then, the following are a few pointers, tips, cautions, etc., for the new coach that might, you know, make the transition game go a little smoother.First and almost foremost, whenever possible, RUN THE FASTBREAK. Etch that on the mirror in your bathroom, on the back of your clipboard, on the cuff of your shirts. For whatever reason, the fastbreak is considered the only true form of basketball in Utah. It is more popular than a sunset reflecting off the snow-capped peaks of Mt. Timpanogos. It was more popular than Republicans. For instance, Paul Westhead was here with his Loyola-Maryrun team a year ago and, after two games, basketball people (i.e., fans) wanted to kidnap him until he liked the city well enough to stay - and he'd gone 1-and-1.
The last couple of Utah coaches have, curiously, mostly shunned the 'break. Admittedly, they did so in the cause of trying to win games. But still, they were out-of-step with the local fans, all of whom have, by the way, PhDs in fastbreaking. So much so that they tend to drive that way. It's true. In Utah, art imitates life. Every day on the freeways in and around Salt Lake there are clinics on how to properly run the fastbreak: Fill all the lanes and don't move for anything. Take the charge if you have to.
Next, DO NOT PANIC when you show up for your first game next fall and the referee tosses up the opening tip and the stands are empty. Don't take this personal. Utah basketball fans like to arrive fashionably late. Monty Howard, the U.'s ticket manager, doesn't get around to counting the house until about the third quarter. A lot of fans also like to leave early, even when the situation on the court is life-and-death, because they don't want to risk getting caught in the middle of the fastbreak for home.
As for local knowledge pertaining to your new school, the U. of U. is very much a commuter campus, meaning that most of the students live at home, work the afternoon shift at a Rainbo Gas Station or a 7-Eleven, and have classes in the mornings. The only real block of on-campus student support - which, incidentally, is a good idea to tap - are the fraternity houses, occupied by the kind of fans who are likely to paint their faces red-and-white and go crazy at games . . . and eventually, down the road, end up as lawyers downtown who will tend to give substantial donations to the university in exchange for not having what they did as undergrads revealed to the general public.
As for wearing apparel, NEVER WEAR ANYTHING BLUE. It's actually a good idea to not OWN anything blue. This is a curious local cultural phenomenon. If you walk around town wearing something blue, people will invariably say, "Aha, a BYU fan." Or, if you wear something red, they'll say, "Aha, a Utah fan." Both statements are usually said disparagingly, and for a Ute coach to wear something blue, well, it just isn't done.
Which brings up the most significant local peculiarity, the Utah-BYU polarization. You might have noticed the controversy between the two schools over the recent fusion experiments. That's minor compared to what happens in something important, like football and basketball.
There are people who have lived in Utah for years and still don't understand the BYU-Utah thing. It is intricate, it is subtle, it is omnipresent. There isn't enough space here to give it its depth. But THIS MUCH IS TRUE: Beat BYU and nobody's going to be sending a Mayflower van to your back door. Ask Jim Fassel.
As a personal aside, I think it would be a good thing to get a little basketball polarity going again between BYU and Utah. The season series has been split down the middle for five straight years now, and both Lynn Archibald and Ladell Andersen tended to treat the rivalry like it was a Cub Scout reunion, which was a far cry from their predecessors, coaches Frank Arnold and Jerry Pimm, who treated it like it was Hulk Hogan versus Andre the Giant. Maybe you think the world of Roger Reid, the new BYU coach, and maybe he thinks the world of you, but who needs to know?
We're talking quality of life here, Rick. Your quality of life. Never get out of the fastlane. Run the fastbreak. Don't confuse official time with Utah time. Don't wear blue. And if somebody asks you if you intend to beat BYU so badly they're going to shut down their program, tell them, "You bet."