In strange case of Majerus, Southern Cal's loss is our gain
Posted: Monday December 20, 2004 1:08PM; Updated: Monday December 20, 2004 1:08PM
Rick Majerus describes himself as a "foodie."
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
"Happiness," former ESPN broadcaster Sal Marciano once said, "is seeing Bristol in your rear-view mirror."
Apparently not, to judge from the boomerang maneuvering of college basketball coach-turned ESPN-analyst-turned-college-basketball-coach-re-turned-ESPN-analyst Rick Majerus. Last January Majerus resigned from his position as University of Utah basketball coach after suffering a mild heart attack. This autumn Majerus, 56, began his stint at ESPN, but it turned out to be the Pope John Paul I of on-air eras, as Majerus left last Wednesday to accept the vacant job at Southern Cal. A day later, feeling "overwhelmed," Majerus phoned Bristol inquiring about whether he might be able to return to his job.
I can only assume the suits at ESPN put Majerus on hold while they finished having the same conversation with Craig Kilborn, Keith Olbermann, Chris Myers and Larry "Aloha means 'Goodbye'" Beil.
Let me paraphrase Alvy Singer of Annie Hall here. When it comes to Majerus, "Love is too weak a word for what I feel -- I luuurve him, you know, I loave him, I luff him, two F's." There's nobody like Majerus. Nobody.
The first time I met him, nine years ago, we went out to dinner in Salt Lake City. By the end of the evening he had set me up on a blind date, a brunch, with his girlfriend's daughter. I was flattered until Keith Van Horn, then a Utah junior, told me that Majerus had once set him up with the same girl (she would eventually marry a former Ute quarterback).
The next time I saw Majerus was last January. We spent the entire weekend together, only one week before his heart attack. Lingering images: Majerus telling me that he'd prefer to drive to the Utes' game at Weber State alone (it's only an hour north) but then of course changing his mind and giving me a ride. The whole way up we talked about relationships and Van Morrison ... after the game, Majerus changed out of his signature sweater and into a Hawaiian shirt in the parking lot. It was about 20 degrees outside. He climbed into his SUV and asked two assistants to give him a scouting report on Utah's next opponent, Pepperdine, as he tried to decide what we should order from his favorite Italian deli. As he drove he wrote the numbers of Pepperdine's starters on the back of his hand so that he'd remember them ...
"I'm a foodie," Majerus said more than one time that weekend. After returning to campus from the Weber State win, Majerus and his staff game-planned for at least two hours before we all went out to dinner. During the game-planning session, we had been eating sandwiches and pasta. Now we were going out to a seafood restaurant. But that's Majerus. Two nights later, after the Pepperdine victory, Majerus, two friends and I visited an all-night diner. The Waves basketball team was there, too, and the ever-gregarious Majerus went over and spoke to them a bit. Then he returned to our booth, whereupon we ordered so many breakfast platters for the four of us that some of them had to be placed on the seats.
It isn't that Majerus is only "Food & Basketball." When I visited him we went swimming each day. He would swim a mile in the Jewish Community Center pool in Salt Lake City, a beautiful, glass-enclosed indoor facility with a commanding vista of the city. The sight of Majerus climbing into a pool in his bathing trunks ... I'll let you draw the picture.
What came back to me again and again was that in Salt Lake City, Majerus had found his Brigadoon. His life was almost entirely devoid of responsibilities outside of his job (as is mine). He lived in the University Park hotel, full time. It was a half-mile drive to the Huntsman Center, his office and basketball stage. He was the most charismatic -- and unmistakable -- figure in town, but it was a city small enough not to have a blinding media glare.
There was always pressure to win, but Majerus has one of the brightest basketball minds out there. And he outworks people. A winning team? That he could control. Playing Kentucky in the first or second round of the NCAAs each year, or so it seemed? That was out of his hands.
Still, Majerus had grown quite comfortable -- not complacent, but comfortable -- in the Beehive State. No mortgage, no domestic distractions (laundry, cooking, etc.). No wife or kids. Deer wandering below his hotel suite terrace. It was a wonderful life.
Maybe Majerus arrived in Los Angeles last week and realized that life in the big city wasn't for him. Maybe he didn't want to live within half a mile of the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Maybe, at 56, he just didn't want to start all over again.
The Trojans' loss, however, should be our gain. Majerus is every bit as hysterical, and spherical, as Charles Barkley. And maybe right now what Majerus really needs is less stress. Besides, as an ESPN friend told me yesterday, "We do have a heckuva cafeteria."
Eight in the Box
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1. The Apprentice ... Wow. Jen Massey, I'm here for you. I imagine she was backstage at Lincoln Center listening to those comments (remember when Trump's COO said, "Well, Regis, you know I don't care for Jen very much as a person ..." Oh, as a person you don't? But as an iguana, what do you think of her? And don't hold back ...) and thinking, jeez, had I wanted to endure nationally televised character assassination, I could have just:
a) Married Kevin Federline. b) Had Stephen Bing's love child. c) Been Kevin Federline. d) Blamed my band for my bad lip-synching. e) Gone hunting for little Mexican girls.
Anyway, it was brutal. I haven't seen that many people pile on a blonde since Tara Reid's birthday party ("Hey-O!!!!")
2. Meanwhile, the chorus of "Kelly" compliments nearly set an NBC Thursday night record for most times that name was mentioned in a two-minute period. I wrote "nearly." The record still belongs to Cheers, in the episode in which Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson) serenades his girlfriend with a sublimely repetitive tune he's written in her honor, The Kelly Song. Here's the chorus:
Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, (pause) Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, Kelly of mine!
But seriously, that's better than anything Elton John has written since Someone Saved My Life Tonight.
3. I spoke with NBC broadcaster and Notre Dame alum Ted Robinson this week. Two things: First, Ireported last week that new coach Charlie Weis had been a football manager, which is incorrect. Robinson had been a freshman football manager and thought that is where he had worked with Weis. Upon reflection he realized that they had worked on the student radio station together.
Also, Robinson directed my attention to page 82 of the autobiography of former university president Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, titled God, Country, Notre Dame. On that page Hesburgh outlines the unofficial policy of the school honoring the full five years of a coach's contract and says he does not foresee that policy changing in the future. That passage was supposed to shock me, but actually, musing over the book's title, I was just relieved to see "Notre Dame" ranked as high as third again.
4. My top three Christmas movies or specials:
A Christmas Story ... "You'll shoot your eye out!" The Year Without a Santa Claus ... "He's Mr. Green Christmas/he's Mr. Sun/He's Mr. Heat Blister/He's Mr. Hundred-and-one" Santa Claus is Coming to Town ... Who can forget the Burgermeister Meisterburger? Or "Put one foot in front of the other"? Although I must admit, when I hear the refrain -- "When you sit on my lap today/A kiss a toy is the price you'll pay" -- now, it just makes me go ewwww!
Hey, I love the "real meaning of Christmas" specials (Charlie Brown, Grinch, The Waltons, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation) as much as you do, but those are my three. And The Little Drummer Boy? Kid had a serious attitude problem.
5. Adam Sandler had a great line on Letterman the other night about being a regular guy: "I have my own private plane, but I don't tint the windows, so people can look in if they want." That said, I still won't see Spanglish because it violates my "Five for Fighting" policy: Any movie trailer that features Five For Fighting's One Hundred Years or Superman (which is almost every movie trailer) immediately gets disqualified from my will-see list. One Hundred Years has become the I Got You (James Brown) of overplayed movie trailer tunes.
6. Speaking of which, the new trend in band names seems to be sports penalties. Five For Fighting? Yellowcard? Is there an "Illegal Touching" out there I have yet to hear?
7. Here's a riff from friend Katie McCollow, whose husband, Mike, is a former high school hoops teammate of SI's Steve Rushin and now works with the Toronto Raptors:
I just read in the paper that some government agency or another recommends people take this holiday season as an opportunity to gather family health histories. What fun. I was thinking Boggle or maybe one of the new Cranium off-shoots, but why not have everyone give a depressing run-down of all their aches and pains? Then we can reflect on the fact that we're all going to die, some of us more painfully than others.
8. Like Charlie Weis, I grew up in New Jersey (until age 12), attended Notre Dame and did not play football there. Here's what the Irish would have gotten had they tossed $2 million a year at me:
$100,000: My personal remittance as behind-the-scenes puppet-master (because I've always wanted to triple my salary) $450,000: A kick-ass offensive coordinator $450,000: A kick-ass defensive coordinator $500,000: Robert Duvall. He'll play the role of the head coach. Can't you just see him stalking the sideline, referring to all his players as "sports fans" while chomping on a cigar? "Brady, you see how the 'backers converge on the pocket on the zone blitz? God, I love the smell of bratwurst in the morning!" $500,000: Aaron Sorkin. Someone's gotta write Duvall's lines and Sorkin's a frickin' genius. He has a history with drug problems, but I'd snort the vacuum bag from Ludacris' tour bus if I could write like that. A Few Good Men? The American President? Sports Night? The West Wing? Are you kidding me?
Anyway, can't you just picture Duvall channeling Col. Jessup ("You can't handle the West Coast offense!") or Pres. Andrew Shepherd ("I'm Robert Duvall, and I AM head football coach!") or even Toby Ziegler ("They'll like us when we win!")?
So that's my plan, ND. Just in case Weis pulls a Majerus on you.