Have you noticed that it's open season on fat persons? Or rather, one fat person in particular. Rick Majerus, the Utah coach, has taken his Utes to the Final Four and made himself a big, fat target, so to speak (OK, no one can resist). The media, which have personal expertise in the area of expanding waistlines, have let loose with their fat jokes and one-liners.

L.A. Times headline: MAJERUS REALLY LIVING LARGE"The balding fat guy in the white sweater ate the other guy alive Saturday. Matter of fact, as far as the West Regional of the NCAA tournament goes, he ate the whole thing." - L.A. Times.

The jokes go on and on. Nobody raises an eyebrow. Suddenly, political correctness is out. Every newspaper in the country is making cracks about Majerus and his 300 pounds.

"Utah coach Rick Majerus guarded his game plan as if it were a free pizza coupon." - L.A. Times.

Hmmm, good one.

No one's had this much fun with fat since Roseanne. Majerus is a lightning rod for overweight jokes. It seems that nobody can write about the coach without making a crack about a) his gut; b) baldness; c) appetite; d) restaurant expertise. A newspaper story in Arizona said the Sun Devils should lay out a big spread to lure Majerus to the school. By the way, the newpaper described Majerus as "Utah's balding, jovially proportioned coach." Whatever a jovially proportioned coach is.

"Any more, you can set your clock by the Utes and their 50-year-old, somewhere-in-the-vicinity-of-300-pound coach." - USA Today.


This sort of thing has been going on for years. Last season, the L.A. Times wrote, "If point guard Andre Miller keeps the ball away from Kentucky's press and leading scorer Keith Van Horn does his thing, Utah Coach Rick Majerus will be scouting restaurants in Indianapolis."

Majerus claims not to care about the fat jokes. "I don't care," he says. "I'd feel crushed if they said we didn't defend or that we didn't care about academics." But not if they said he was a fat man.

There is good reason for this. If anyone is to blame for the fat focus, it is Majerus himself. He has opened the door for it by making light of his own girth (and we'll leave it to you amateur psychologists to drone on about why the coach would do this) No one cracks more fat jokes about Majerus than Majerus. To wit:

- "We really don't know what we're going to do. I've got to eat on it."

- "The kids are mentally tough. That doesn't come from me. I mean I am definitely not mentally tough. You can see that because I'm a fat guy."

- ". . . I don't wear a tie. I'm fat. I'm not good-looking. And I speak my mind. That's a combination a lot of people don't like."

Majerus goes for laughs at his own expense, especially when he has a national forum. Sometimes you get the feeling he has rehearsed a few of his one-liners. Majerus is playing the role of the jolly fat guy all the way to the bank, or the banquet circuit. His self-deprecating humor has helped win him national media attention and regular work in the broadcast booth. He keeps the humor coming.

- When asked years ago what it would take to lure him from Ball State, he replied, "A pizza franchise. I would eat at any place I owned so I know the profits would not be exorbitant."

- On visiting an upscale nightclub in Tucson: "The only girl who would look at me in a place like that is a fat waitress."

- When a nervous passenger inquired about air bags as Majerus drove more than 100 miles per hour on I-15: "If we crash, I'm your air bag."

There might be reason for concern, of course. Majerus, 50, ate himself into heart bypass surgery eight years ago. Afterward, he kept his weight down for a time, relatively speaking, but it wasn't long before he returned to his old ways. He seemed to accept his lot in life: fat. During the course of a basketball season, his weight climbs, and this year more than most, it appears. But he claims to exercise regularly and receive regular checkups. "I'm in pretty good shape," he says.

Years ago, when he was a young assistant coach at Marquette, Majerus and his mentor-boss, Al McGuire, used to retire to a pizza joint after practice to talk hoops. Watching Majerus gobble slice after slice of pizza, McGuire would pound his fist on the table and tell him that he was going to wind up too fat for anybody to hire him.

He was wrong, of course. Majerus got fat, and he was hired anyway. But many acquaintances worry that the combination of fat, stress and intensity are going to kill him one day.

Majerus doesn't seem to worry about it. He eats often, he eats late, he eats everything. Garlic bread, pizza, pop, pasta. One writer described a stop at a convenience store in which the coach bought potato chips, licorice, malted milk balls, peanuts and pop. The calorie parade and jokes go on.

- "I look like Saturn." - Majerus, while wearing a sweater with horizontal stripes.

- "Everybody before me has talked about Coach Wooden's pyramid of success, and how they start their day with that. I start my day with an Egg McMuffin." - Majerus, speaking at the John Wooden Awards banquet.

- "Some guys smoke. Some guys drink. Some guys chase women. I'm a big barbecue sauce guy."

- "They ran two or three big pictures of me. Actually, every picture of me is big because I'm so damn fat." - Majerus, after seeing a newspaper story about himself.