Rick Majerus, one of the most popular college basketball coaches to step on the floor, died Saturday in Los Angeles at 64 while awaiting a heart transplant. Majerus coached four teams and had only one losing season on his record, leading the University of Utah to the national championship game in 1998. His longtime friend Jon M. Hunstman confirmed Majerus’ death to the Salt Lake Tribune.
The coach left Utah in 2003 because of health problems, going on to coach St. Louis University for five years before stepping away as heart trouble sidelined him from basketball permanently. He underwent bypass surgery in 1989 and was waiting for a transplant at the time of his death.
Decades in the game combined with a personality that everyone seemed to love brought Majerus many friends, many of whom are still players or coaches in the NCAA and NBA. Steve Fisher, a coach at San Diego State who met Majerus when he was a graduate assistant at Marquette, told ESPN the news was tough to take.
“Rick would hold court at night with a case of beer in the basement," Fisher said. "Phenomenal coach, a better person, cared about family, cared about people. He will be missed by everyone.”
Majerus would swim laps daily, but friends said he often joked about his weight. The struggle to maintain his health was a long one, a stent was installed in his heart in 2011 but over the past six months his health was reportedly in rapid decline.
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He was known throughout the sports world for a series of lovable personality quirks that saw him live in hotel suites near university campuses and decorating the team roster with players from all over the globe.
“It was a unique experience, I’ll tell you that, and I loved every minute of it,” former player Kyle Cassity told ESPN of playing for Majerus. “A lot of people questioned the way he did things, but I loved it. He’d be hard as hell on you, but he really cared.”