SMU interest in Majerus brings questions

April 11, 2012

ST. LOUIS — Sometimes, the price of success includes loss. And in the case of the Saint Louis Billikens, that loss could be their head coach.

SLU on Wednesday granted coach Rick Majerus permission to speak with Southern Methodist about its coaching vacancy. Though the timing is inconvenient for the Billikens, it's not surprising. SMU's interest in Majerus comes a little more than three weeks after SLU completed its best season in his five years at the school, going 26-8 with a defeat to Michigan State in the Round of 32.

Majerus is an appealing candidate for SMU athletic director Steve Orsini for a variety of reasons. The Mustangs are eager to make a splash to complement their move to the Big East in 2013. Yes, Majerus has history in the Final Four. But more relevant for SMU, he showed at SLU he could awaken a dormant program.

The Mustangs haven't appeared in the NCAA tournament since 1993. Before this season, the Billikens had not earned an NCAA tournament berth since 2000. Legacies are made in March, and Majerus impressed the nation by leading SLU to a victory over Memphis and outcoaching Tom Izzo for much of the game before the Spartans' superior talent sealed the victory.

So what would Majerus' departure mean at Chaifetz Arena? It would be difficult to maintain the program's momentum. He provides credibility and name recognition, and it would be difficult to replace him with someone who offers similar national relevancy. Senior forward Brian Conklin, the Billikens' leading scorer at 13.9 points per game last season, also will be gone. So SLU would confront the unenviable task of replacing its top producer and the face of its program in the same year.  

What if Majerus stays? Obviously, it would be a victory for SLU. Stability would be preserved — and with it a chance to make another push toward the NCAA tournament with an experienced lineup. There would be a sense that Majerus is content with his situation — SMU is reportedly offering $2 million a year, more than double what Majerus earns now — and the program could move forward knowing it has a valued leader. (Meanwhile, Majerus would move forward with a possible raise.)

But even if Majerus stays, this could begin a period of uncertainty with his tenure at SLU. After all, the more attention he brings the Billikens, the more likely it is a program with wealthy pockets will try to lure him away.

It's obvious Majerus enjoys his situation at SLU. He was comfortable this past season. He grew close to his most recent team, especially to Conklin, and took pride in seeing the spirited group advance as far as it did in March.

But $2 million a year can't be ignored, and it could entice Majerus to make the move south. There's also intrigue in possibility. Beyond the money, SMU's offer is attractive: It's a chance to compete in the Big East and be part of an athletic department trying to invigorate itself before the move to a major conference.

This winter, Majerus led SLU to success it had not seen in 12 years. Now the Billikens will discover if the price of their breakout season means his departure.