Saint Louis coach and former Utah legend Rick Majerus passed away Saturday, and there was no shortage of written remembrances and vocal, throat-clearing tributes to a complicated but ultimately beloved college coach.
But I'm guessing the tribute Majerus would have appreciated most, the one that might have best summed him up as a man, came Sunday.
That's when the Saint Louis team his heart robbed him of coaching went out and got a win, a 62-49 win over Valparaiso. It's not so much the victory that feels like the tribute (though surely Majerus would have appreciated that), but the nature of the game itself: His team won by stifling the opponents, holding the Crusaders to 32.6 percent shooting, and keeping leading scorer Ryan Broekhoff to just 10 points on 4-of-12 from the field. Majerus' teams defended, and they took away what you wanted to do, and I like to think Majerus would have appreciated Sunday's effort.
"Coach dedicated his life to basketball," Saint Louis forward Dwayne Evans told the Associated Press. "I can't think of a better tribute than to get a win."
Of course, that win came after an emotional pregame tribute in the Chaifetz Arena. From the AP again:
A moment of silence was observed before the game. Following the silence, fans in the near sellout crowd clapped and cheered for 50 seconds before the national anthem was played. Saint Louis players wore black ribbons on the front of their jerseys. The student cheering section, of which Majerus was a big supporter, donned black shirts. Majerus used to make sure to acknowledge the Slunatics, as they are called, after each home game.
"He always let us know that he appreciated us," said senior Marty Kovarik, vice president of the group. "Before the season, he would take some of us to dinner and tell us just how important he thought we were to the team. It made us feel good -- like we were a part of things."
That sort of story -- Majerus's outreach to friends and students, his attention to personal and social detail, his love of being involved, and of course his love of dinner -- was the prevailing way most seemed to remember him Saturday and Sunday. He was by all accounts a complicated man, difficult to work for and with, but for every angry story there seemed four or five incredibly positive thoughts emerge.
I did not know Majerus. I was 13 in 1998, when he was at the height of his Utah powers, and so I probably didn't quite get just how good he was until I got a bit older and started thinking about these things more often. (I always loved his TV work.)
From afar, though, Majerus just seemed ... genuine. And not genuine in the way football writers loved to say Brett Favre was genuine, with the faded T-shirt and K-Mart jeans. I mean genuine in the sense that Majerus didn't really seem to care about public perception at all, provided it didn't impede on how and when he was able to coach basketball. He didn't wear nice suits. He didn't sell. He wasn't trying to chip away at every sharp edge of every inch of his personality or his program to make its "brand" more "palatable" to fans and advertisers. He just wanted to coach basketball.
He was either one of a kind, or the last of his kind. Either way, he will be missed.