When I coached at New Mexico, I spent three years in the Mountain West going head-to-head with Rick Majerus of Utah. Although he knew me and let me seek him out for advice when I was a young head coach at Manhattan College, he ignored me when I came into the conference as a competitor.
It ticked me off. It was his way of saying, “We’re competitors now, and I am trying to beat your butt.”
Majerus will be remembered as one of basketball’s great teachers. On a list of my favorite clinicians, he was right up there with Hubie Brown and Bob Knight. More importantly, he shared his knowledge with coaches from every level, in part because I think he saw himself as a basketball everyman.
His basketball lineage goes back to his days in Milwaukee as an assistant coach at Marquette under the great Al McGuire and Hank Raymonds. Majerus spent time as an assistant with the Milwaukee Bucks under Don Nelson and Del Harris as well. They influenced him along with great coaches like Knight and Dean Smith.
I was fortunate to be one of the many coaches who spent a late night at a diner with Rick, moving salt and pepper shakers around the table to simulate a new screen-and-roll concept. Of course, there was a double order of onion rings and a couple of milk shakes on the table as well.
When I left coaching to go to ESPN, Majerus let me spend four days at Utah watching his team practice. While I wasn’t surprised by the attention to detail, I felt like I was sitting through a graduate-level basketball course. While his coaching style could be described as an acquired taste, the majority of his players thrived under him on and off the court.
After not talking to me for three years when we competed against each other, the day I resigned as coach at New Mexico, he was the only colleague of mine in the league to call and offer his help. And he was sincere.
I'll never forget that. Underneath his large frame, and despite the sometimes gruff and quirky personality, Majerus showed me he had a good heart.