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Legendary coach Rick Majerus dies of heart failure at 64

The SportsXchange

Legendary college basketball coach Rick Majerus, known for his tenacious style of defense on-court and recruiting acumen off-court, died Saturday of reported heart failure at the age of 64.

Majerus reportedly died in a Los Angeles hospital, according to longtime girlfriend Angie Kvidera, who first confirmed his death to USA Today.

Also confirming the death was longtime friend Jon Huntsman Sr., who issued a statement to the Salt Lake Tribune, which covered Majerus during his 15-year tenure as head coach at the University of Utah from 1989 through 2004.

"Majerus was one of the premier coaches in college basketball history and a dedicated mentor to thousands of young men and women," Huntsman's statement said. "We will miss him greatly."

Majerus, who had just one losing season in his 25 seasons as a head basketball coach, compiled an overall coaching record of 517-215, a nearly 71 percent winning record, and took his teams to 12 NCAA tournament appearances, including taking his University of Utah team to a berth in the 1998 National Championship Game vs. Kentucky.

Longtime Utah athletic director Chris Hill also spoke to the Tribune about Majerus' passing, saying "all of us in the University of Utah community are deeply saddened. Rick left a lasting legacy at the University of Utah, not only for his incredible success and the national prominence he brought to our basketball program, but also for the tremendous impact he made on the young men who were fortunate to play on his teams.

"His standard of excellence extended beyond the basketball court and into the academic and personal success of his players. He will be deeply missed and we grieve for his family and all of his friends."

Funeral arrangements are pending, along with a memorial service, Huntsman said.

As news of Majerus' passing first broke, USA Today cited a tweet by Loyola (Ill.) men's basketball coach and former Majerus assistant Porter Moser: "RIP to my friend and mentor Coach Majerus. I learned so much about the game and life. We lost One of the best! My heart is heavy tonight."

Nebraska assistant coach Chris Harriman, another former Majerus assistant coach, told CBSSports.com that Majerus passed away at 3:30 pm PT at an unnamed hospital in California.

On Aug. 24, Majerus announced he was taking a one year leave of absence from his position as head coach at Saint Louis University due to health reasons. He had led the Billikens for the last five seasons.

On Nov. 16, the school announced Majerus would not be returning to the team due to what it said was continued evaluation and treatment of an ongoing serious heart condition. At the time, according to several St. Louis media outlets including KMOV-TV, Majerus reportedly asked school officials to keep details about his health private.

"Coach Majerus' health is of the utmost importance, and our thoughts and prayers are with him as he faces his challenges," SLU Athletic Director Chris May said at the time. "We are thankful for Rick's efforts as he succeeded by all accounts as our head men's basketball coach.

"Rick built this team to be in a position to compete for championships, and we will move forward with that same goal. We will continue to invest all of our resources to ensure that this team, under the leadership of interim head coach Jim Crews, is put in the best position possible to succeed."

Crews will remain in his position through the remainder of the season.

When the school announced Majerus would not be returning, there was a sense that his fragile health condition had worsened. At the same time, the veteran coach had done exceptional work in revitalizing the men's basketball program at St. Louis, particularly last season, when he led the Billikens to the third round of the NCAA Tournament, the first appearance for the school in college basketball's so-called big dance since 2000. The Billikens also became a ranked team for the first time since 1994-95.

"Rick returned our program to national prominence, and Billiken fans everywhere will be forever grateful for his deep commitment to winning, and his even deeper commitment to our student-athletes," SLU President Rev. Lawrence Biondi said at the time. "We continue to pray for Rick and his family and friends during this difficult time."

According to USA Today's report on Majerus' death, CBS Sports analyst Clark Kellogg reflected on Majerus career in an interview last week, perhaps aware that the end was near, given the final part of one comment.

"He is one of the great tacticians and coaches and students of the game," CBS Sports analyst Clark Kellogg said last week. "He sees it and explains it in a unique way, which I have always enjoyed. He will be missed."

Majerus had been hospitalized for several weeks, according to several media reports.

Majerus was long affiliated with Marquette University. He graduated from Marquette University High School in 1966 and then enrolled in the University later that year. He joined the men's basketball team as a walk-on in 1967 but never saw action in a game. He segued to become a student assistant with the team through the remainder of his time there until he graduated in 1970 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History.

After a brief role coaching eighth graders at a Milwaukee private school and then freshman boys at Marquette University High School, he became an assistant coach of the University's program, first under legendary coach Al McGuire through the 1976-season, and then with McGuire's successor, Hank Raymonds until 1983.

Majerus then replaced Raymonds, compiling a 56-35 record in three seasons as head coach of the Warriors.

Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers played at Marquette in Majerus's final three seasons as an assistant before his promotion to head coach, and was visibly upset upon hearing the news Saturday.

"That's a tough one for me. He's the one that gave me my nickname ("Doc")," Rivers said. "I knew before (the game) that he wasn't going to make it through the night. I don't want to talk much about it. It was ... yeah. it was tough."

Majerus coached current Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach Jim Boylan during his time at Marquette.

"He's done so much for basketball at Marquette and all through the state of Wisconsin," Boylan was quoted in a Bucks media release. "For me personally, he's always been there. He's one of those guys who, if you don't see Rick for a while and when something was going wrong and you needed help, boom, he'd be there."

Majerus moved to the NBA for one season as an assistant coach with the Bucks before returning to the coaching ranks at Ball State, compiling an outstanding 43-17 record in two seasons (1987-88 and 1988-89).

After his stint at Ball State, Majerus moved to head the program at the University of Utah, coaching 15 seasons there from 1989 through 2004, including leading the Utes to the National Championship Game in 1998, losing what Majerus called the most heartbreaking loss of his career to Kentucky.

Health issues plagued Majerus at times during his career. He underwent seven-vessel bypass heart surgery in 1989, and then left Utah to again deal with his heart condition. He compiled a record of 238-64 during his Utah tenure.

In a strange twist, and only months after leaving Utah, Majerus accepted an offer to become head basketball coach at the University of Southern California on Dec. 15, 2004, with a start date of April 1, 2005. However, five days after a very public announcement of Majerus' hiring, he again appeared in front of the media with tears in his eyes, saying he had changed his mind due to another health flare-up.

He became a TV analyst for ESPN from 2004-2007 before getting the itch to return to college basketball as a head coach. The marriage of Majerus and St. Louis was a perfect situation: Majerus wanted to get back into the game and rebuild a fledgling program, while St. Louis' program had taken a dive in credibility and notoriety.

Majerus compiled a record of 95-69 during his five-season tenure at Saint Louis.
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