Hundreds of friends and fans gathered at Marquette University on Saturday to remember Rick Majerus, the impassioned college basketball coach who died of heart failure at 64.
Al Jensen, who played for Majerus at Utah and coached with him at Saint Louis University, recalled the portly man who loved food as much as basketball as a demanding coach and loyal friend.
”There wasn’t a man as unique as Coach. You can’t compare him to anyone else,” Jensen said.
Majerus was 517-216 over a 25-year career in which he had 15 seasons with at least 20 wins, plus two 30-win seasons. He led Utah to the NCAA championship game in 1998 and also coached at Marquette, Ball State and Saint Louis.
Majerus died of heart failure Dec. 1 in a Los Angeles hospital.
Jensen said no one ever made him as angry as Majerus occasionally did, but he always respected his coach’s passion and intensity.
”He pushed you to your utmost limits,” Jensen said.
The funeral was held at the Church of the Gesu at Marquette, the Jesuit school where Majerus began his coaching career as a student assistant to Al McGuire.
The Majerus family released a statement expressing thanks for the outpouring of sympathy.
”We cannot begin to express our sincere gratitude to everyone for their thoughts, prayers and well wishes during this difficult time for all of us,” the statement said. ”Rick was certainly a public figure with a terrific sense of humor, a competitive spirit and a love of family, especially our mother, Alyce, his friends, players, fellow coaches and fans.”
Saint Louis’ 15 current players were listed as official pallbearers. About a dozen former Utah players attended the funeral, including Keith Van Horn, Andre Miller and Michael Doleac.
Also attending was Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who credited his former coach for providing tough love on the court and unconditional love off of it. Majerus gave Rivers his nickname.
”I don’t think I would be the coach of the Celtics or a lot of other things if Rick was not in my life, if Rick had never come in my life,” Rivers said in an interview posted on Marquette’s website. ”He gave me great love, great attention, great tough love. He made me grow up. He made me a better person and a better player.”
The Marquette basketball team will honor Majerus by wearing a black and yellow ribbon with the initials ”RM” on its uniforms for the rest of the season.
Rivers flew back to Boston in time for the Celtics’ evening game against Philadelphia.
”It was just a long day, a tough day,” he said. ”Rick was important to me. I felt I had to be there.”