Judicious Time-out Heavier than ever and suffering from stress, Utah coach Rick Majerus stepped aside to get his health in order

February 09, 2004

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."

Hoop Thoughts by Seth Davis, and Grant Wahl's Mailbag, at
si.com/basketball/ncaa.

COLOR PHOTO: AL BEHRMAN/AP Majerus will be a tough act to follow at Utah, where he's been alarger-than-life figure. COLOR PHOTO: DAVID STLUKA (HARRIS) By putting his team first, Harris has carried Wisconsin to thetop of the Big Ten.

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