Utah's Rick Majerus and Arkansas' Nolan Richardson don't hang around in the same coaching circles, but the two coaches respect each other and have a few things in common, right down to almost identical winning percentages.
Both are large men, who are fond of animals and cowboy boots, and both are good friends with UTEP coach Don Haskins. Richardson played for Haskins in the early 1960s, and Majerus has been close to Haskins for several years. Both spoke when UTEP renamed its arena for Haskins last fall."It looks like he enjoys a good meal," said Majerus of Richardson. "And you've got to like a guy who wears cowboy boots."
Richardson is one of the winningest coaches in NCAA history with 434 victories against just 154 losses, a .738 winning percentage. Majerus hasn't coached as many games, but he has a .735 winning percentage with 305 wins and 110 losses.
MEMORIES OF 1944: Utah and Arkansas have never met in basketball before, but the Arkansas basketball team plays a prominent part in one of Utah's most famous basketball accomplishments.
Back in 1944, Utah played in the NIT basketball tournament in New York and lost in the first round. Team members were about to return home when they learned that a car accident involving Arkansas players had left one player dead and others injured.
So the NCAA asked the Utes to take Arkansas' place in Kansas City, and the rest is history. The Utes went on to win their only NCAA basketball championship behind Arnie Ferrin & Co.
TOO MUCH SUCCESS: Majerus, who has now won six straight NCAA first-round games as Ute coach, talked about how Utah fans have a tendency to take the Utes' success for granted.
"Our fans have become so accustomed to success that sometimes it's not as much fun as it should be," he said. "Sometimes we get to tournaments and we play not to lose because there's so much expectations. Sometimes you get eaten up by the monster you create."
GOING NONSTOP: Majerus hopes his team will be playing for the next three weeks, but he's also looking forward to the time when he can relax a little bit and enjoy his job as a Utah Jazz analyst on TV.
"I've been going straight for 14 months now," said Majerus, referring to his breakneck schedule the past year. Actually, it's probably more like 18 straight months.
After last season's NCAA success, Majerus got ready to be the coach of the U.S. 22 & Under team and then went to Australia to compete in a world tournament. Soon after that he took his own Ute team to Europe for several games before getting ready for this season.
"I feel like that guy on `Groundhog Day,' " said Majerus of the Bill Murray character who keeps waking up to the same day over and over.