Thursday’s With Raider: Special Edition, A Tribute to Rick Majerus


Editors Note: Sorry I should have gotten this posted last week.  But I couldn’t seem to get it done.  Like all things we have to say goodbye to Rick and move on and posting this would be doing just that.  I suppose I wasn’t ready until now.  Raider and I hope you enjoy.

Raider Thoughts

Saturday night, I took my special lady friend up to Temple Square along with 75,000 other people who want to see what sorts of Christmas lights they put up this year.  I have always heard that chicks are really into a whole bunch of lights laid out on deciduous trees and concrete, so it was definitely worth a try.  But while we made our TRAX ride up there, I thumbed through Twitter and saw the news.  Naturally, a lot of thoughts popped into my head, and while some of them may or may not have already been typed, tweeted or Facebooked I will now take this week’s entry and celebrate the life, times and eccentricities of a man man loved by many and loathed by many others.  Rick Majerus.

For those of you who are under the age of 25–or more specifically, you’re a current student at the U–let me describe to you what having a good, let alone dominantbasketball program was like.  For one thing, many Ute fans thought of football as an excuse to twiddle our thumbs until Night With The Runnin’ Utes rolled around.  This was our version of Midnight Madness, which was kind of scaled down vis a vis traditional “basketball schools”.  It was very U of U of us, believe me.  But consider what many of us saw between 1991 and 2004, where the Runnin’ Utes:

–Won 20 games or more 12 times.

–Won Ten conference regular season titles and four tournament titles

–Made the NCAA Tournament 6 times, the Sweet 16 four times, the Elite Eight twice, and a few minutes of finally beating Kentucky for the 1998 national championship.

–Yes, you read that right, young whippersnapper, the Utes almost won a national title.  In basketball.  Many of us–myself included–still haven’t gotten over that.

But it was more than just those accomplishments.  We saw Keith Van Horn & Co. take on Tim Duncan and Wake Forest.  Games against New Mexico in the Pit were on national/network television.  We loathed Royce Olney for being a [goddamn] piece of [motherfucking shit].  We remembered when the Hunstman Center was packed to therafters, and that the Utes had the best home court advantages in the entire country.  We remebered the players that came here…Van Horn.  ‘Dre.  Doleac.  Phil Cullen.  Josh Grant.  Hanno Mottola.  Britton Johnsen.  Nate Althoff.  The buzzer beaters by Van Horn in the WAC tournament to break the hearts of SMU and the Lobos.  You pondered how awesome it would be to live in a hotel and you also got mad when SLAM magazine made fun of him for enjoying several good meals (yes, I read SLAM as a teenager.  Had to keep my ear to the streets and such).  But as I look back on all of it, a lot of kids of my generation owe our Ute basketball fandom to Rick.

One thing I had always sort of marveled at as I looked back on his life and his tenure here was how well he understood the culture of this town and this state.  I think that has been lost on nearly everyone that has followed in his footsteps.  You’ll recall in his book “My Life On A Napkin” that he lamented the fact that Britton Johnsen went on his mission after the 1998 title run, as he thought it impeded his basketball progression.  But despite that, I always got the impression he had a tremendous amount of respect for kids like that.  And don’t forget that he had this way of getting under the skin of a lot of detractors in this town: the media, narcissistic BYU fans, some people in our own fan base and probably Chris Hill if what I had always heard about their working relationship is true.

Not to get too philosophical here, but most of us often don’t realize what we have until it’s gone.  And so it is with Utah basketball.  There was likely no one else before and there will likely be no one else to come that truly knew what it took to win here and to make the the Runnin’ Utes what many of us fans think it should be.  Sure, there may be another Larry Krystkowiak, or Jim Boylen or Jeff Judkins or Tommy Connor or whoevertakes over that job.  But there will never be another Rick Majerus.  In this Ute fan’s opinion, that’s a damn shame.

"Rick Majerus (1948-2012). Always and forever the head coach of the Utah Runnin’ Utes -RaiderUte Tweet the night Majerus passed away"

 Mac Thoughts

As I said earlier this week, it took me 10 years to watch the Kentucky game again.  And over the final four minutes I still think I was sitting there cheering for for just two shots to drop.  I really believe that, if we can get two more shots to drop over that final four minutes we’re national champions.  There are so many ifs and buts about that.  So close.  I saw Rick talk about that game in 2000 or 2001 and he recited possession by possession.  I think it made him crazier than he was.

You know I’ve read all the tributes at least twice, I’ve linked many of them here and I really think that Rick Majerus is both the best and worst of all of us.  I mean he was horrible to people.  The story (and forgive me fansided folks if I don’t use the quote exactly it loses effect) where Rick got a manager to dictate a letter to Chris Hill over some small piece of equipment still near the Huntsman Center floor, the letter began, Dear Dr. Hill, Fuck You You Fucking MotherFucker.  It’s like the thing we do in our fantasies to bosses we really hate.

But the thing is you’re right, guys like Rick Majerus are disappearing.  There seem to be so few characters anymore.  I think that is part of what makes this so hard.  I mean the winning was fantastic, but it was everything else, the funny quotes, the almost unbelievable horrible stories.  Utah basketball was an event the whole country talked about.

We may win again, but its never going to be like that.  And you’re right, its a damn shame.

 Raider Thoughts

One other thing I wanted to add to this In Memoriam was a “what if” is one that has left me to pause over the past few days.  You remember that Rick was up for some higher profile jobs right around the time Van Horn graduated, if memory serves.  Texas and Arizona State were two in the college ranks that came to mind but considering the one NBA job that he was a candidate for is my chosen NBA team, I thought it worth a passing comment.

It’s the end of the 1996-97 season, and the Warriors have fired Rick Adelman.  The W’s ended up going a very Warriors-like 30-52, but Rick would have inherited the likes of Joe Smith, Donyell Marshall, Erick Dampier, Jason Caffey, and Todd Fuller, who the Warriors picked with despite such names as Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Peja Stojakovic, and Jermaine O’Neal still available, because we’re awesome like that.  But the worst thing he inherited was the impoverished man that was Latrell Spreewell.  Luckily for most of us, P.J. Carliesimo took that job and we’re all familiar with what happened next, but I can only imagine how Rick’s life would have changed had he taken the Warriors job.

Certainly, I shudder to think how he would have handled a man who was quite possibly the biggest head case in NBA history this side of Metta World Peace.  Or even if he would have been able to.  And let’s not forget the fact that college coaches don’t make the transition to the NBA very well.  Majerus theoretically saying “Rick Barry isn’t walking through that door.  Clifford Ray isn’t walking through that door” would have been every bit as big of a disaster PR wise as it was when Rick Pitino said it as the head coach of the Celtics.  You’ve seen the reaction of most of the Niner fan base with Alex Smith practically from the moment he was drafted–the number of their fans who wished they had drafted Aaron Rodgers is pretty high.  Imagine that with Rick multiplied by about 10,000.

But I digress.  I’ll close before I get too sappy and sentimental, but as a Ute fan and someone who has a very unconventional attachment to this university, I’m so grateful that, to paraphrase William Butler Yeats, our glory was that we had such a coach.

 MAC Thoughts

From time to time Rick would speak on campus and I always went and heard him.  I heard him discuss the NBA a couple of times and it made me wonder if actually he wouldn’t have been a hell of an NBA coach.  He always talked about if he was an NBA coach he would have to do this or that differently, like not letting guys celebrate.  He talked how rotations would be different how practice would be different.

In short, it always made me believe that he would have been a pretty good NBA coach.  But I also think he would have hated it.  All Rick really liked was practice and you never get to do it in the NBA.

Since this piece is kind of the closing of at least my tribute to Majerus at least on Hoyo’s Revenge.  I have to say this whole reaction has been almost remarkable to watch.  So many loved the guy.  So many who loved the guy hated him as well.  A fascinating guy who at the end of the day I’m not sure any of us really knew.  I know he was a pleasure to watch coach basketball.  I know he was a joy to listen to.  I’m sure he was hell to work with.

And I think at the end of the day, all you can say is, we’ll never see another like him.

RIP Rick Majerus One of a Kind.