Rick Majerus, the jovial basketball coach who led Utah to the 1998 NCAA final and had only one losing season in 25 years with four schools, died yesterday. He was 64. Jon Huntsman, the coach's longtime friend, confirmed in a statement that Majerus died of heart failure in a Los Angeles hospital. The coach had been hospitalized there for several months, and had a history of heart and weight problems dating to 1989 that persisted despite a daily constitutional of a mile swim.
Players remembered Majerus, who got his start as an assistant under Al McGuire at Marquette, as a coach who was exacting and perhaps a bit unorthodox at times, but always fair. "It was a unique experience, I'll tell you that, and I loved every minute of it," said Saint Louis guard Kyle Cassity. "A lot of people questioned the way he did things, but I loved it. He'd be hard as hell on you, but he really cared." The school announced Nov. 19 that Majerus wouldn't return to Saint Louis because of the heart condition. He ended the school's 12-year NCAA tournament drought last season, and bounced back from his only losing season, with a team that won its opening game and took top regional seed Michigan State to the wire. Majerus took 12 teams to the NCAA tournament, with the 1998 Utah team losing to Kentucky in the NCAA championship game.