Majerus sidelined by heart problems

Updated: January 29, 2004, 3:09 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- Utah basketball coach Rick Majerus was released from Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital Wednesday night, but has remained in the area to recuperate and perhaps to go through further testing for his heart problems.

Majerus, 55, was hospitalized Tuesday and likely has coached the Utes for the last time. He had been having dinner in Utah when he began having chest pains that grew in severity, the school announced Wednesday.

According to the university, Majerus will resign at the end of the season. A team source told ESPN.com that he won't be back this season, but Utah athletics director Chris Hill told ESPN.com that he wouldn't rule out Majerus returning this season. He said Majerus has earned that right if he's able to coach.

Dick Vitale's Take
Candiotti
What in the world is going on here? First the news of Louisville coach Rick Pitino taking a medical leave and going for tests -- and thank God the news was good. Now comes word that Utah coach Rick Majerus has been hospitalized because of chest pains.

Majerus has had a history of heart problems related to his weight. He is one of the most popular coaches in college basketball, a fun guy who almost always has a smile on his face. This is such a sad, sad story.

The stress of college coaching can wear on people. To have to deal with X's and O's is just one small aspect of the job. There's recruiting, fund-raising, dealing with the pressure of winning ... it goes on and on.

I just hope Majerus will take care of himself now. He has to worry about himself first and foremost, with basketball taking a back seat. More...

Majerus talked to his assistants Wednesday night, and did not indicate that he would be back. Assistant Kerry Rupp, who will take over coaching duties in the interim, said he got a message from Majerus Wednesday morning.

"He just said he had some health issues," Rupp said. "Your health has to come first and foremost, and he has said that to our players many a time."

The Utah sports information department told ESPN.com on Thursday that Majerus is awaiting the results of some tests he underwent while hospitalized.

"It's been a tough day," Hill told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "He was emphatic that he's done at the University of Utah at the end of the season. He said he might want to help take this team as far as he can. But he's got to take care of his health."

The announcement came as a shock to Utah's staff. Majerus' assistants talked to him about recruiting on Tuesday night, the team source told ESPN.com, and had no idea Majerus was not well.

The Utes learned of the situation at a team meeting Wednesday morning.

"We were shocked, of course, but he would want us to move on," said senior Nick Jacobson. "What are we supposed to do? Just play on."

Majerus flirted with leaving Utah in the offseason for a television career but returned to the Utes because he wanted to coach his incoming freshmen, notably Australia's Andrew Bogut. But he had hinted even before this latest hospitalization that he would leave Utah after this season.

"He has had a fantastic, unbelievable run at the University of Utah," Hill told ESPN.com. "It has been a wonderful run. The glory times of Utah basketball are during his regime. I was happy to work with him the whole time he was here."

Majerus joined the university in 1989. In the 1990s, Utah ranked eighth among NCAA Division 1 programs in both wins, 250, and winning percentage, .767. The team has made 10 trips to the NCAA Tournament including advancing to the 1998 NCAA Final Four, losing to Kentucky in the national championship game.

Majerus' announcement comes after Louisville coach Rick Pitino said Monday he was taking an indefinite leave of absence to determine the cause of "urological-related" pain. He said Tuesday he may return to coach the Cardinals this weekend.

Majerus' health problems have forced him to take extended leaves in two other seasons since he started at Utah.

Mike Lageschulte, Utah's associate sports information director, told ESPN that the 6-foot Majerus' weight is 370 pounds. "This is the heaviest I have ever seen him," he said.

"Everybody that knows Rick and cares about Rick has mentioned that he needs to take care of himself," Hill told The Associated Press. "I think coaches' lives in general are stressful. I think every year is stressful because of the pressure they put on themselves.

"I think they're all very, very intense and maybe Rick is maybe on the high end of intense."

Majerus coached only six games in his first season before undergoing heart bypass surgery in December 1989. He coached one game in the 2000-2001 season before leaving to deal with health issues and care for his ailing mother.

Majerus' affection for his players and his record helped him win fans across Utah.

Gov. Olene Walker praised Majerus in a statement, saying he has done a wonderful job, and has raised the men's basketball program to national prominence.

"I appreciate his emphasis on education for his athletes," Walker said.

In the 1990s, Utah ranked eighth in Division I in victories (250) and winning percentage (.767). The team has made 10 trips to the NCAA tournament under Majerus.

Rick Majerus
Rick Majerus had been his fiery self this season, guiding the Utes to a 15-5 record.

"Its been a strange week for the coaching fraternity -- first Rick Pitino and now Rick Majerus. This profession can be physically and emotionally demanding," said Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, whose Wildcats beat Utah in the 1998 title game and bounced the Utes from the 2003 tournament in the second round.

Utah (15-5) has lost its last two games. Rupp coached the team in one game last season, filling in when Majerus left to attend the funeral of the stepfather of former player Andre Miller. Rupp will coach the Utes Saturday when BYU visits Utah.

But Majerus' career at Utah has been dotted with distractions.

In September of 2001, Utah uncovered several minor NCAA violations, many within the men's basketball program, and cited a lack of departmental oversight over Majerus. The infractions ranged from a free meal for players at a tailgate party to milk and cookies for players at film sessions.

The investigation began after former ski coach Pat Miller threatened a lawsuit, alleging he was fired for an NCAA violation far less serious than others committed by other athletic department personnel.

After a two-year investigation, Utah's athletic program was placed on three years' probation last July. The violations included meals for men's basketball players and academic fraud on the football team. The bulk of the NCAA's concerns with the basketball team centered on meals that Majerus bought for players -- a rule that has been changed to allow for such meals as long as each one is documented.

The Utes may still participate in postseason tournaments and no restrictions were placed on TV appearances.

Just this month, university officials announced that Majerus was cleared in an investigation into a complaint by a former player who claimed the coach berated him about his partial hearing loss.

The investigation was launched after a complaint from former Utes center Lance Allred after the 2001-2002 season. Allred told The Salt Lake Tribune that Majerus used offensive, vulgar language two years ago when berating him and mentioned Allred's partial deafness. The 6-foot-11 center transferred to Weber State, citing constant abuse from Majerus.

Hill said he's not even thinking about a permanent head coach.

"That's the last thing that I'm thinking about right now," Hill told ESPN.com.

But, when the time comes, Utah State head coach Stew Morrill is expected to be one of the leading candidates to take over one of the premier programs in the West -- built by Majerus.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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