Utah basketball: Utes pay tribute to Rick Majerus
The enduring image of former Utah basketball coach Rick Majerus will always be of him pacing the sidelines in his trademark white Utah sweater, hands gesturing one way or another as he shouted instructions at a player or ripped into a referee.
The Utes paid their former coach a fitting tribute Wednesday as coaches and fans alike wore sweaters to the Huntsman Center and Utah acknowledged Majerus' passing before playing Boise State.
Majerus died of heart failure at the age of 64 on Saturday in Los Angeles. He coached Utah from 1989-2004 and led the Utes to the NCAA Tournament 11 times. The Utes lost to Kentucky in the 1998 championship game, one of four times they reached the Sweet 16 under Majerus.
He endeared himself to Utah's fans with his quick humor and intense coaching habits that often left his white sweater drenched in sweat.
"I certainly have great memories of coach Majerus sweating profusely through his sweater because I had to tug at it a lot when he would lose his cool," said assistant Tommy Connor, who played for Majerus and coached with him. "That was kind of my job."
Majerus was honored with a short video clip and a moment of silence before Wednesday's game. One of his original sweaters was draped over the Utes' first chair while players wore patches on their uniforms in his memory.
Phil Cullen, Utah's director of player development and camps, played for Majerus and was responsible for the sweaters Utah's coaching staff wore.
"This building feels different now," he said. "The day after we found out, I was by myself in the Huntsman Center and it was interesting looking at the conference titles won all during coach's career and the All-Americans he has coached and how he used to walk down portal 15 every day in practice. It has been years, but those memories are still present and he is still very much a part of Utah basketball."
Majerus finished his career at Utah 323-95. He resigned in January 2004 for health reasons. He served as an ESPN analyst and coached at Saint Louis from 2007 until Aug. 24, when he resigned due to failing health.
"It's not surprising because we all knew his health wasn't good," said former player Jeff Johnsen, who attended Wednesday's game with his brother, Britton. "He was an enigma, polarizing, everything we have heard this week, but there were definitely two sides to him that a lot of people don't know. He was a great coach and definitely tough to play for, no question."
While his sometimes harsh ways didn't sit well with some, Majerus was remembered Wednesday for his coaching feats.
Joe Cravens, Majerus' former assistant who is now an announcer for the Pac-12 Networks, said the tribute was deserving.
"He took a program that had been kind of wallowing in obscurity and built them into a perennial top-20 program," Cravens said. "I think the two things you are judged on as a coach is how many you win and how many players you graduate, and he did both of those."