This weekend, Saint Louis University and the college basketball community were devastated with the news of legendary basketball coach Rick Majerus’ passing. Majerus, who had dedicated his life to the development of young men on and off the court for over a quarter of a century, is now gone forever at the age of 64. The legacy that Majerus has left behind, however, will live on. Heralded as one of the greatest minds in modern basketball, Majerus became known as a maestro in conducting the action on the court. His ability to have a direct effect on the game at hand was second to none.
Perhaps more important than his ability to influence the game on the court, was his ability to influence his players off of it. Majerus often stressed the value of an education, knowing well the impact that it can have on a person’s life. In an interview in November of 2000, Majerus had this to say regarding his role as a coach:
“I like practice, I love teaching, I love to see a kid get a degree and an education. I enjoy the college campus. I love the theater in our campus. I like the campus life. There’s a travel club on our campus, and I’ll go to those lectures. In an NBA player’s life, how can you make a difference? I mean, you might be able to make a little bit of a difference, but I think I’ve impacted all my players more than any pro coach they’ve ever played for — both from a basketball standpoint, but more importantly, from a lifestyle standpoint.”
There certainly aren’t enough words to give enough credit to I the incredible life and career of Majerus. As a coach, Majerus went to 12 NCAA tournaments in 25 seasons and finished with a career winning percentage of .705. In 1998, he led Utah to its second national title game in school history. He coached six academic All-Americans during his career and coached 3 players that would go on to play in the NBA.
Majerus was able to breath life back into the Billiken basketball program, going 95-69 over his five-year tenure as head coach and leading the team to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2000 and first tournament victory since 1998. He was beloved by the students at SLU for his colorful and, at times, irreverent personality. When introduced as their new head by SLU president Fr. Lawrence Biondi at a press conference, Biondi gave his own interpretation of Majerus’ name and it’s origin, citing the Latin word Magnus, meaning “greatness”. In typical Majerus fashion, he quickly responded, “The name is really from Luxembourg. I think it means sausage eater.” He continued his commitment to the true standard of the student athlete, having 8 of his players earn Academic All-Conference in the Atlantic 10, the most by any Atlantic 10 program during that time.
To say Majerus left his mark on Saint Louis University during his time there would be an understatement. He not only breathed life back into the basketball program, but into the school as a whole. There was a buzz and an energy on campus that had been previously absent. He will be missed by the entire Saint Louis community.
Often times Majerus’ insightful and emotional nature gets overlooked by his gruff and irreverent public persona. In his postgame press conference following the 3rd round loss to Michigan State, Majerus made his passion and love for his Billikens squad very apparent: http://www.ncaa.com/video#!basketball-men/2012-03-18/mbb-305-saint-louis-post.
In a sit down with Bernie Miklasz in late August of this year, after Majerus had announced he would be taking a leave of absence from the team due to health concerns, he reflected on his own mortality, an issue becoming seemingly more prevalent by the day.
“You examine your life, your values, your failures, the things that make you proud. You think about the people you’ve helped, and the people you’ve let down. And then you rethink it all over again”, said Majerus.
“You assess your own life. And it makes you realize how much you want to live. And how much there is to live for.
I realize that I cannot completely do coach Majerus justice through this piece, but as a fan, a student, and a devout basketball enthusiast, I wanted to pay my own homage to this fantastic coach and human being. We grieve for the great person we lost this past weekend, but we should also take time to celebrate the great life and career of a man who devoted his time and talent towards the betterment and education of young men. You made me proud to be a Billiken. You will be missed coach Majerus. We love you Rick Ma. AMDG