Sports Check with Rick Majerus

Rick Majerus will do the color commentary for the broadcast of the Marquette vs. Cincinnati game on ESPN2 tonight. Majerus is no stranger to Marquette. He graduated from Marquette in 1970, was an assistant coach under Al McGuire and Hank Raymonds for 12 years and then served as head coach for three seasons. He achieved most of his success coaching Utah, where his 1997-'98 team went 30-4 and lost to Kentucky in the NCAA finals.

The day after broadcasting the Marquette vs. Louisville game, Majerus did a telephone interview with the Tribune.

Tribune: Do you think Al McGuire's coaching style would still work in today's game? Do you think he would have the same impact on today's student athletes?

Majerus: I think anyone who has a genuine interest in wanting to help a kid and in his education can impact a student athlete, can impact anybody … Al McGuire would be fine. He would have a tough time today with the recruiting in terms of the commitment that it takes. I don't think he'd enjoy how serious it is today. How much business it is today.

Tribune: What did you learn from your time at Marquette?

Majerus: I love Marquette. I got a great education. I got a world-class education. I really learned about the importance of a value system and structure. I learned about a respect for people and a genuine concern for the greater well being … The Jesuits, (the Rev. Ronald) Bieganowski, (the Rev. Patrick) Walsh, and (the Rev. William) Kelly, those guys were really special. Father (John) Naus is a good guy … There's one thing that the Jesuits are proud of and probably one thing I've lived my life by is the Ignatian Discernment Procedure, whenever I have to make decisions, big decisions, tough decisions. I'm an ardent reader. I like to think I'm a big picture guy … I've probably dropped the ball on going to Mass a little bit, well maybe a lot, but I don't think I've dropped the ball on having a bigger picture … I used to take my team and go build houses for Habitat for Humanity and that's the part I miss about not coaching, that kind of stuff. And I would say all of that evolved from my Marquette experience.

Tribune: When you were at Utah, I assume you had players who were Mormon and went on missions. One of coach Crean's recruits, Matt Mortensen, will be going on a Mormon mission and then joining the team in two years. Does it hurt the players to be away from the game for that period of time?

Majerus: No question about it. I mean it does. It hurts them basketball-wise, but it helps them for the rest of their life. They undergo a discovery of self. They become a little bit more … contemplative. They look at the whole picture of life. But I used to tease them and say, "See the priest at the end of my bench. That guy took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience." I said, "That's no money, no honey and a boss for the rest of your life." I said, "That's a guy who's really committed."

But I really respected my Mormon kids. I enjoyed them. I wasn't going to join, I told them that. I really understood their commitment and passion.

I only asked one Mormon kid to not go on a mission trip, because I said it will impact your pro career and it has. He said to me, "What about eternity?" I said you could maybe do your mission after basketball.

He went and it really hurt him, and it will hurt that kid next year too.

Tribune: In the past two years five players have left Marquette. Is that something to worry about or is that part of the game? I ask because by one journalist's count about 30 players left during your 15 years at Utah.

Majerus: I think there are three aspects, or possibly four, to guys transferring. I had what you might call happy transfers where a guy might be at a place like Utah and then go to Weber State or a school like UWM because he can play. If those kids want to do that I was all for that, and I helped to facilitate that in a lot of cases.

The second one was I had guys who weren't passionate about the game or they wouldn't adhere to conduct or an academic structure. I moved those guys out quick. Once I found out those kids weren't committed to a) their education, b) passion for the game. It's not for everybody, and McGuire had several too.

Half of America is divorced. Is there a commitment you enter into with greater deliberation or more sanctity than a marriage? Probably not. There's a lot of guys I'd like to go on a camping trip with, that I had as players, but not a lot of guys I'd like to work with. As soon as their passion did not match my own for a) their education or b) the basketball experience I moved them.

Then, c) there were the parental cases. There's always a Little League dad out there who wants to help coach along, who thinks his kid is Larry Bird on the come. Invariably that kid leads a sad life.

I know we always won at graduation and we won at basketball. I didn't let anyone go that I thought was a winner. The other ones I couldn't escort out the door fast enough.

Tribune: Is there anything that would entice you to return to the sidelines as a coach?

Majerus: I don't know. I will probably go back. I don't know. I almost went back this year. I'm just kind of like buying my time right now. I need to take care of some family situations. Then I need to get my health in a more optimal condition …

Al (McGuire) never had the energy for (and) enthusiasm for practice everyday that (Tom) Crean has and Crean will never have the understanding of the safe haven of a motorcycle ride around Lake Michigan like McGuire.

The two of them will not appreciate that fact about the other. They can respect it; but not really appreciate it. I don't mean that as being derogatory toward either one of them. I mean that as a compliment to both of them.

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on Feb. 24 2005.