Saint Louis University announced Friday afternoon that Rick Majerus will not return as head coach of the Billikens men’s basketball team. According to an official press release from the school, Majerus, who was forced to take an indefinite leave of absence in late August, continues to receive treatments in California for a serious heart condition.
“Coach Majerus’ health is of the utmost importance, and our thoughts and prayers are with him as he faces his challenges,” Director of Athletics Chris May said. “We are thankful for Rick’s efforts as he succeeded by all accounts as our head men’s basketball coach. This is an exciting season for the program, and we think it is important to communicate, with transparency, to the student-athletes, staff and our loyal fans that Rick will not be returning.”
Jon M. Huntsman Sr., one of Majerus’ close friends from Utah, has been taking care of him and will continue providing the school updates on his condition.
“We would like to express our utmost appreciation to Jon M. Huntsman Sr., a close and trusted friend to Coach Majerus,” May said. “Mr. Huntsman was a true godsend as we worked closely together regarding Rick’s welfare and relationship with the Billikens.”
While Friday’s developments seemed almost inevitable, May admitted the news was hard on some of the players.
“It’s not an easy time here even though there was some expectation, because everybody knows Rick’s dealing with a challenge,” he said. “It’s always an emotional time and then you move forward. It’s a challenge, but we got a group of young men who care about Rick, but they also care deeply about themselves and their team.”
“Personally, for me Coach was basically like a personal friend,” senior captain Kwamain Mitchell said before the start of practices. “He recruited me when I was in high school. We’re going to miss him, but we still have to move on.”
When asked what Majerus’ greatest gift to him was, Mitchell, who was one of the players first recruited by Majerus to play at SLU, said, “I think it was just becoming a man. Coming in as a freshman, there were some things I didn’t know about life and Coach, he was there to teach me and to lead me down the right path on and off the court. One thing people always tell me was that he’ll make you into a good basketball player, but also a young man.”
Over his five-year tenure as SLU’s head coach, Majerus compiled a record of 95-69.
Last season, he helped the Billikens crack the national polls for the first time since the 1994-95 season, en route to an unprecedented 26-8 finish and their first NCAA appearance since 2000. That trip to the Tournament included their first tournament win since 1998, a 61-54 victory over the 8th-seeded Memphis Tigers.
Saint Louis also captured the ESPN 76 Classic in Anaheim last season, their first in-season tournament title since 1986.
Under Majerus, Saint Louis also reached the final round of the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) in 2009-10.
Before joining the Billikens in 2007, Majerus was head coach at the University of Utah from 1989-2004. During his 15-year tenure with Utah, the 64-year-old Wisconsin native led the Utes to eleven conference titles, ten NCAA tournament appearances, and nearly a national championship in 1998.
Despite all his successes, health concerns forced Majerus to retire midway through the 2004 season. He finished with a record of 323-95 as Utah’s head coach.
That December, University of Southern California signed Majerus to a five-year contract worth $5 million, with the plan being for him to replace interim coach Jim Saia at the start of the 2005 season. Five days after the school introduced him as head coach and just as he was preparing to buyout his contract with ESPN, Majerus walked away from the job.
At the time, he cited health issues, but he has since admitted that it was at his mother’s request that he gave up the USC job.
“I was all set,” Majerus admitted in an interview with the LA Times. “I had a home picked out in Santa Monica, about 20th Street, just north of Montana. I wasn’t in great shape health-wise, but I knew I could be when I’d take over in April. And then, my mom called.”
Alyce Majerus, who was battling small cell cancer at the time, called Rick and asked him not to take the job just two days after he had accepted it. Majerus offered to buy his mother a home in Los Angeles, but they ultimately decided that he would be living too far from their home in Wisconsin.
Majerus returned to his position as a college basketball analyst with ESPN after he walked away from his contract with USC, quickly gaining popularity for his colorful personality. He remained with ESPN until 2007 when SLU hired him to replace Brad Soderberg.
“Rick returned our program to national prominence, and Billiken fans everywhere will be forever grateful for his deep commitment to winning, and his even deeper commitment to our student-athletes,” University President Lawrence Biondi, S.J. said. “We continue to pray for Rick and his family and friends during this difficult time.”
Fans wishing to send Majerus items of support, such as cards or letters, may do so by sending the items to Rick Majerus, Chaifetz Arena, 3330 Laclede Ave., St. Louis, Mo 63103. All items will be sent directly to Majerus. Fans also will have the opportunity to sign “Get Well Soon” cards at upcoming Billikens’ games.
SLU also plans to honor Majerus at a SLU home game during the 2013 Atlantic 10 Conference season.
“The focus for this season does not change,” May said. “Rick built this team to be in a position to compete for championships, and we will move forward with that same goal. We will continue to invest all of our resources to ensure that this team, under the leadership of interim head coach Jim Crews, is put in the best position possible to succeed.”