Majerus' departure leaves hoops the poorer

The gaping hole between the lines was obvious four months ago when Saint Louis announced Rick Majerus was taking a season off to deal with a serious heart condition.

Most everyone knew what it meant -- that in all likelihood, Majerus’ career was over.

So Friday’s official retirement announcement wasn’t even a little surprising, met with a shoulder shrug or a sad nod more than with the deference and attention it deserves.

Rick Majerus spent 25 years in college basketball, a lifetime achievement award in and of itself. In that span, he won 517 games and lost just 216, gobbling up success at places where the spoon was silver-plated, not sterling. Yes, Marquette was ready-made thanks to his mentor, Al McGuire, but Ball State, Utah and Saint Louis hardly conjure up Easy Street.

And yet he won and won big.

He walks away as one of the game’s greatest tacticians, a guy who could X-and-O with just about anyone, but it’s not his brilliant mind that will be missed the most.

It’s his personality. In a sports world of bland clichés and surface-scratching thought, Majerus was entertaining, interesting, insightful and thought-provoking. He could talk about anything and somehow tie it back to basketball, or better yet, just talk about anything and leave basketball out of it -- a basketball addict who wasn’t basketball myopic.

Other than maybe John Chaney and Pete Carril, I can’t think of more uniquely interesting postgame news conferences than a Majerus summary.

No one will argue he was perfect. Even for those of us who admired him a great deal, he wasn’t always easy to love. He was famously and sometimes brutally tough on his players, and he could be downright prickly and crass.

But he spoke his piece and coached to his conviction, indifferent about what that might do to him in the popular vote.

What people don’t know is Majerus also was less famously generous, spending his own money, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, to make sure one of his assistants was appropriately compensated and to bankroll the Billikens’ trip to Canada.

He didn’t, by the way, tweet the good deed, alert the media, issue a news release or hold a press conference to let everyone know what he did.

He just did it.

Because that’s what you do when you’re real, when you’re a person who just so happens to be a basketball coach, when the entire notion of being a "CEO" of a basketball program is as laughably self-indulgent as it sounds.

Majerus wasn’t corporate. Good glory, imagine.

He was a rumpled, overweight everyman who came into the job when people cared about the strength of their voice, not the fabric of their suits.

And let’s face it, there are fewer and fewer of those people today.

There are plenty of good people and good coaches left, but there is too much to lose and there are too many social media traps to risk being outspoken or even quirky.

Majerus didn’t give a damn, which made him dangerous and wonderful all at the same time.

He didn’t coach to be famous. He didn’t coach to be rich. He didn’t even coach to be liked.

He coached because he loved basketball, because the game was his heart.