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Herewith, the contents of Rick Majerus' refrigerator in a...

March 18, 2004|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

Herewith, the contents of Rick Majerus' refrigerator in a Santa Barbara hotel room last month:

Diet Snapple.

Nonfat milk.

Hard-boiled egg whites.

Annie's Naturals low-fat, low-sodium raspberry vinaigrette dressing.

A suspect Styrofoam takeout box that reveals only half of a tuna-on-wheat.

Two kinds of plums, with three papayas ripening on top of the refrigerator.

Some garbanzo bean soup, and another small jar.

"I never thought I'd snack on artichoke hearts," Majerus said, reaching for the jar.

This in no way resembles the typical contents of the refrigerator in the Salt Lake City hotel suite the brilliant but famously fat coach lived in for all of his 15 years as coach of the Utah Utes.

"Well, to start with, I had two refrigerators," said Majerus, who returned to Utah this week to pack his belongings.

*

It is March, and here is the seeming madness:

Utah plays Boston College in a first-round NCAA tournament game Friday in Milwaukee, and Majerus -- who happens to be from Milwaukee -- will not be on the bench or anywhere in the building. He said he has not watched the team on TV and would not watch Friday.

"It's too hard," he said.

Majerus, 56, quit abruptly as coach seven weeks ago, citing health issues after flying to Santa Barbara in a friend's private plane the night of Jan. 27.

He did not say goodbye to his team, has spoken to only two players by phone, and said he would not return the calls of the parents and high school coaches of others until the season ends.

Yet there proved to be no immediate heart crisis for the coach who already has had a quintuple bypass -- nothing more than inflammation, a chronic condition that research suggests is a risk factor for heart attacks.

The debilitating pain he suffered was from diverticulitis, though if it had continued untreated it could have developed into peritonitis, an infection in the abdominal cavity that can be fatal without surgery.

"I was scared," Majerus said. "I was sick."

He spent only one night in Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. But Jim Murray, the Santa Barbara cardiologist and friend whose counsel Majerus sought, told him he had to get his health under control, as did friends Jon Huntsman, a billionaire Utah booster, and Bob Henderson, his attorney.

"I was with one of my friends from Utah and he said, 'God, you look terrible.' And I said, 'Why didn't you say anything?' And he said, 'Because you never listen. You're the king. You know it all. I got tired of it.'

"And pretty much my doctors have said that too. 'We just get tired of it.' So Murray has really sat me down here. I just really have to try."

Majerus has health problems. This is not a news bulletin. But why didn't he return to finish the season, at least tell his players in person that he was leaving?

The answer is as complex as the man. Among the factors are physical and probably emotional burnout and the baggage accumulated in those nearly 15 years at Utah.

The crises of the past two years include an NCAA infractions case that found academic fraud in the football program and numerous minor violations in the basketball program -- widely treated as a lark because many of them had to do with food.

There also were charges by Lance Allred, a partially deaf former player who transferred to Weber State, that Majerus demeaned his handicap during practice, calling him a "disgrace to cripples." (An investigation by the University of Utah's Office of Equal Opportunity found no violations and Majerus said his comments were misrepresented.)

No one present has confirmed the comments for the record, but few who have witnessed a Majerus practice doubt he said some approximation of what was reported, with one important distinction:

Majerus, they say, is an equal-opportunity verbal abuser.

"He treated all the players the same," said senior guard Nick Jacobson, the player closest to Majerus, allowing that Majerus swore at players, "like most successful coaches."

By the count of Patrick Kinahan, a Salt Lake Tribune reporter, more than 30 players chose to move on during Majerus' time as coach, including Marc Jackson, a guard who quit abruptly after his sophomore season last year.

While playing for an exhibition squad called Northwest Sports last fall, Jackson called Majerus' excessive practice time "abuse." (Breaking the 20-hour weekly limit was one of the NCAA rules Majerus was cited for violating.)

"There's more to life than basketball," Jackson told the Tribune.

Majerus insists none of those situations is the reason he quit.

Friends believe he will coach again, though probably not next year and certainly not at Utah, a situation from which he said he has "divorced myself."

Utah Athletic Director Chris Hill said he did not try to persuade Majerus to stay because it was presented to him as a fait accompli. (Majerus is not officially on medical leave, continues to use the office secretary for personal business and will be paid until his contract expires this year.)

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