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Wednesday, November 19, 2003
A master coach; a better broadcaster
By Rick Majerus
Special to ESPN.com
Editor's note: Utah coach Rick Majerus played for Al McGuire at Marquette and coached under him during the 1977 NCAA title team. He was a close confidant with McGuire and spent a number of days with him during his year-long battle with leukemia. Majerus, who took a leave of absence from his team this season to deal with a heart procedure, knee rehabilitation and a family illness, returned to Milwaukee in January to be with his mother while she battles lung cancer. He spent the time visiting both his mother and McGuire.
He shared some of his thoughts with ESPN.com's Andy Katz on Thursday, less than 24 hours before McGuire died Friday morning at the age of 72. Majerus is expected to be one of the pallbearers at the funeral.
Al used the clock in life and on the court better than anyone I know. He got the most out of a day and the most out of a game. If he had a six-point lead with six minutes left, you wouldn't see the ball. He's the reason they started the 30-second clock.
But Al will be remembered more for his broadcasting career. That gave him more visibility. When he was broadcasting, there weren't as many cable channels. It was truly a national game.
His broadcasting is what distinguishes him among basketball people, although he was a terrific coach. He always downplayed his success as a coach to a certain extent.
Al really enjoyed broadcasting and it brought a nice dimension to his life. He spoke to the common guy. He didn't complicate the game. He and Billy Packer usually took polarized positions and Dick Enberg was the master referee during their days with NBC.
Al was a good storyteller and people liked him to tell stories. They would tell him things in confidence because he was non-threatening and not judgmental. He was always a progressive thinker and he evolved with the times.
I always loved when he would go into stream of consciousness talks on Monday morning. I liked him to talk about life and growing up at the bar he did and how he could have been cop but went into basketball so he didn't have to get a real job. He said he'd rather fight on the court then fight in a bar.
He loved the game and loved to watch and talk about it. He loved the competitiveness of it and the simple challenge of his game plan against somebody else's. He didn't complicate winning. I think he'll always be remembered as coach whose teams were disciplined. We didn't fastbreak. We took care of the ball and valued the shot clock and played hard. His teams weren't as disciplined off the court. We had some guys who didn't go to class and whose dress code was something.
His whole belief in recruiting was you couldn't over recruit. He said less talent was better than more talent. He assigned roles better than anyone. He would have been a perfect pro coach for a veteran team. He wasn't a great fundamental teacher. He wasn't big on getting your crossover step better. But he would motivate you. He loved the games. But he was always hurt when he was booed in his last three games in Milwaukee (before going to the NCAA Tournament).
In the end, coaching got to him. He told me he didn't like going to practice anymore. He said he's getting older and the kids are staying the same age. He was 46 and didn't have that edge anymore. He didn't think it was right to go through the motions.
Remember, he started coaching in the 60s and stopped in '77. He coached through Vietnam. He was a guy who put the game in perspective. He didn't think this was the Korean or Gulf War. This was basketball. In his day, we used to get on the bus, he would order pizzas and buy two cases of beer. He would say that no one could have more than two bottles, but of course, someone would have three. Can you imagine if you did that in this day?
But he got bored with coaching. He would go through phases like that. But it was his candor as a broadcaster, his simplicity to reach the common man with his delivery that was great. But the lines weren't as spontaneous as you would think. He would go to the ends of the earth to get a phrase and read it. He worked harder at broadcasting than coaching.
He was the most important influence on my coaching career in terms of how I react to situations: scheduling, refs, parents, players and academics. I will still use him as a reference as long as I coach and live.
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