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ON JAN. 27, Utah coach Rick Majerus had dinner at Michelangelo's in downtown Salt Lake City with two of his best friends, former Utah Jazz coach Frank Layden and lawyer Bob Henderson. Majerus, who will turn 56 on Feb. 17, told his buddies that he was so stressed from coaching his young team—the Utes have only two upperclassmen among their first 10—that he hadn't slept in five nights. Noticing that Majerus didn't look well, Henderson asked if he was feeling all right. "No," Majerus replied. "I've got a pain in my chest, and it's radiating down my left arm."
Those are classic warning signs of a heart attack, something Majerus well knew, having undergone a septuple bypass in 1989. He finished his dinner and then called Dr. Jim Murray, a Santa Barbara, Calif., physician who had treated him in the past. (Majerus's regular doctor was out of town.) An hour or so later Majerus was headed to Santa Barbara on a private jet. Before he left, Majerus told Henderson that whether or not he could return to the sidelines, he would resign at the end of the season.
"He's always been heavy, but he used to be able to run four or five miles," says Henderson of the 6-foot Majerus, whose weight has reportedly ballooned to 370 pounds. "Things have just gotten worse, and finally the guy realized he had to do something."
Majerus spent the next day at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, but he was so flooded with phone calls from well-wishers that he moved into Murray's house, where he could rest comfortably while being monitored. He continued to undergo tests at Cottage as an outpatient over the weekend, and Henderson said he expects that Majerus will stay in Santa Barbara for the foreseeable future.
It's been an especially trying season for Majerus. Last July, Utah was placed on NCAA probation for three years for an assortment of rules violations, and last month allegations of Majerus's insensitively berating a hearing-impaired player, Lance Allred, who transferred to Weber State in 2002, surfaced. (A university investigation two years ago cleared Majerus of any wrongdoing in the Allred matter.)
An intense motivator and master tactician, Majerus has long been one of the game's most colorful characters. He had a 323-95 record in 15 seasons at Utah and took the Utes to 10 NCAA tournaments, including a 1998 trip to the Final Four. Though Majerus initially left open the possibility of coming back to coach this year, Henderson says that Murray has told him "under no circumstances" is he to return this season.
Majerus's abrupt departure shocked his players. "I had a feeling this might be his last year, but I never saw this coming," says senior guard Nick Jacobson, the Utes' leading scorer (15.6 points a game). Majerus left Jacobson a voicemail on Saturday after Utah (16-5, 4-2 in the Mountain West) came back from a 17-point deficit to beat BYU 64-56 in the first game under interim coach Kerry Rupp. "I don't know if he saw the game, but he knew the details and said how proud he was," Jacobson says. "He was sad he couldn't be there, but he was still happy for us."