Rick Majerus, the jovial basketball coach who led Utah to the 1998 NCAA final and had only one losing season in 25 years with four schools, died Dec. 1 at a Los Angeles hospital. He was 64.
Utah industrialist Jon Huntsman, the coach’s longtime friend, confirmed in a statement released through the Salt Lake Tribune that Mr. Majerus died of a heart ailment. The coach had been hospitalized for several months.
Players remembered Mr. Majerus, who got his start as an assistant under Al McGuire at Marquette, as a coach who was exacting and perhaps a bit unorthodox at times but always fair. Mr. Majerus was known for assembling rosters with an international flair, and his final team at Saint Louis had players from Australia and New Zealand.
Saint Louis athletic director Chris May said in a statement that what he would remember most about Mr. Majerus “was his enduring passion to see his players excel both on and off the court.”
“He truly embraced the term ‘student-athlete,’ and I think that will be his lasting legacy,” May added.
The school announced Nov. 19 that Mr. Majerus wouldn’t return to Saint Louis because of the heart condition. He ended the school’s 12-year NCAA tournament drought last season and bounced back from his only losing season with a team that won its opening game and took top regional seed Michigan State to the wire. The Billikens were ranked for the first time since 1994-95.
Mr. Majerus had a history of heart and weight problems dating to 1989 that persisted despite a daily constitutional of a mile swim. He had a stent inserted in August 2011 in Salt Lake City and missed some games in the 2011-12 season after gashing his leg in a collision with players.
He backed out of a commitment to coach Southern California due to heart problems.
Mr. Majerus was 95-69 in five seasons at Saint Louis and had a 25-year record of 517-216, with 15 20-win seasons and two 30-win seasons. He had his most success at Utah, going 323-95 from 1989-2004. He was at Marquette from 1983-86, and Ball State from 1987-89.
Ball State was 29-3 in 1988-89 under Mr. Majerus, including the school’s first NCAA tournament victory. At Utah, Mr. Majerus produced 10 conference championships in 13 seasons.
Mr. Majerus took 12 teams to the NCAA tournament, winning at least one game in all but one of those appearances, with the 1998 Utah team losing to Kentucky in the NCAA championship game. He led four teams to the NIT and took Saint Louis teams to the CBI tournament final in 2009-10.
Arizona coach Sean Miller coached against Mr. Majerus when he was at Xavier and Mr. Majerus was at Saint Louis.
“It became very apparent when you prepared for his team and watched him coach against your team that there are very few coaches that are more prepared, more detail-oriented ... than Rick Majerus,” he said.
Mr. Majerus was born in Milwaukee and earned a spot on the freshman team at Marquette, his hometown college. He didn’t make the varsity under McGuire, who instead hired him as an assistant coach in 1971.
Mr. Majerus’s ties to Wisconsin included a one-year stint as assistant coach with the NBA’s Bucks in 1987-88.
Three of Mr. Majerus’s players at Utah were first-round NBA draft picks. Keith Van Horn was No. 2 overall in 1997, Michael Doleac 12th in 1998 and Andre Miller eighth in 1999.
Saint Louis is 3-3 this season under interim coach Jim Crews, who joined the staff last season. The Billikens were picked to finish second in the Atlantic 10 but have struggled without point guard Kwamain Mitchell, sidelined probably until January with a broken foot.
Mr. Majerus was briefly married from 1987-89. Survivors include his sisters, Jodi and Tracy.
The portly coach was unabashed in his love of food, always quick with a restaurant recommendation for whatever town his teams were playing in.
His autobiography, “My Life On a Napkin,” came out in 2000.
AP Sports Writer Beth Harris in Los Angeles contributed to this report.