The only physical reminder of the late Rick Majerus sits high atop the rafters at Chaifetz Arena, a simple, blue-and-white banner commemorating his 517 career victories.
There is nothing glamorous about it. It sums up Majerus' contributions
basketball from a purely utilitarian perspective: He won 517 games, he was a terrific basketball coach, and he was the coach at Saint Louis University.
Now, he is dead.
There is no emotion in the banner. Just a statistic.
Everybody seems to have a Rick Majerus story. When he died on December 1, his colleagues in the coaching profession and numerous members of the media shared their ridiculous Majerus encounters, ranging from his legendary ability to ingest food to Andy Katz's recollection of Majerus stripping naked in a hotel room during an interview. This is who Rick Majerus was. He was larger than life, a folk hero of sorts who did and said whatever he wanted to whenever he wanted to.
My Rick Majerus stories are not legendary. I never even personally had a one-on-one conversation with the man, but when I learned of his death last month, I had a brief moment of devastation. How could he be dead? He was just talking to us in post-game press conferences less than a year ago. He was right there. Sitting five feet in front of me. Now, he's just gone. That's how we commonly feel when somebody dies. There's that initial shock that somebody who seemed so alive just months before will never return to this earth. It wasn't unexpected - Majerus had fought obesity and heart troubles for years and had taken a leave of absence from Saint Louis University - but it was difficult to deal with, even for somebody like myself who was so loosely associated with him.
Although my Rick Majerus stories are not legendary, they are stories nonetheless. And they are stories that likely differ from those leaked by the national media and fellow coaches. That's why it was difficult for me to learn of Majerus' death (which I read on Twitter, no less). Yes, I've read the stories of his absurd antics. I've read about how he used to call a partially deaf player at Utah "a disgrace to cripples". I've read about how he took his clothes off while eating a pizza in the locker room in front of a recruit, and I've read about how he took a dump on a towel during practice and made the managers throw it away. If those stories are true, they confirm what most of us knew already. Rick Majerus was a bizarre, eccentric and downright controversial human being.
I knew a different Rick Majerus. It's hard for me to really judge the man, since I had such brief and impersonal interactions with him. In my experience, though, Majerus had a different side to him. When I was in high school, I interned for a sports radio talk show in St. Louis. Majerus was a regular guest, and in my year at that station, he was the most cordial and friendly interview the host of my show ever had. The show aired from 10 p.m. to midnight on a station hardly anybody in town could hear during that time slot
due to bad reception, and yet he came on almost every month without complaint. He answered every question truthfully and honestly, as though he were our equals. He was also one of the only interviewees I ever heard say "thank you" at the end of the interview. The other coaches in town never did that, but Majerus did. You knew he meant it, too.
In press conferences at Saint Louis University, he was also different than you might expect. He was never abrasive or condescending. It was almost as though it were therapeutic for him to answer questions, especially after losses. He was calm, down-to-earth and, above all, honest. You knew what you were getting with him. He wasn't trying to deceive you.
That's the thing I've always respected most about Rick Majerus. He may have been a jerk sometimes, maybe even a lot of the time. He was far from a perfect man, but he knew that himself and never tried to hide it. He was who he was and he didn't care what you thought about him. If we could all live our lives like that, we'd be better off,.
Even though the only physical sign of Majerus in the building Friday night was that banner in the rafters, I saw his presence on the court from the tip. Saint Louis harassed overmatched Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and jumped on the Cougars immediately with its patented defensive pressure. Majerus' teams hounded people last year on the defensive end, and they're doing it again under interim head coach Jim Crews.
It was refreshing to think that even after his death, Majerus lived long enough to instill this sort of defensive mentality into his players. They're channeling his teachings on every possession. That banner may not say much, but it doesn't need to. Rick Majerus' players do it for him.