I never met Rick Majerus. Tributes from sportswriters who did have been pouring in since news of the coach's passing broke Saturday night, and are worthy of your attention (here's a good start).
Aside from being a tremendous basketball mind, what I knew about Majerus from our strictly speaker/listener, analyst/viewer relationships was that he was hilarious. It wasn't just a "fat guy, funny guy" thing either (although Majerus certainly never shied away from self-deprecation), he was genuinely hysterical on a number of levels thanks in large part to the fact that he was both so intelligent and so likable.
I'm from Kentucky, where you either educate yourself on college basketball or find yourself left out of conversations. Majerus has been a staple of in-depth college basketball talks with friends for as long as I can remember, and not just because he won 517 times or took Utah to the 1998 national championship game. Just as it seems was the case with those who knew him best, we loved his stories, loved his quotes, and loved his personality.
While Rick Majerus the basketball genius certainly deserves his own tribute, the following may play an even larger role when it comes to him living on as a frequent piece of conversation.
"Man, if they show Ashley one more time, I'm not going to have to rent a movie when I get back to the hotel tonight."
Easily the most discussed Majerus quote around these parts. Ashley Judd was looking especially attractive while attending a Kentucky home basketball game, a fact which the ESPN cameraman apparently picked up on early and often during the evening's broadcast. Majerus, who was serving as an analyst for the game, said outloud something that was probably in keeping with the comments of many American males watching from the safety of their living room.
Of course it was inappropriate and warranted a mild reprimand from ESPN, but because it was Majerus, ultimately it was deemed Ok.
That's the thing about naturally intelligent and funny people, they can get away with things that people who don't meet those qualifications can't. There's an understanding that the controversial quote wasn't the product of ignorance, and the potentially outraged viewer comes to terms with the fact that it was far less crude than every other comment made at their house during last year's Super Bowl party.
"When I die, they might as well bury me at the finish line at Churchill Downs so they can run over me one more time."
Majerus had an awful history with Kentucky during his stint at Utah, losing to the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament in 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2003. The '98 loss was the most notable, as the Utes squandered a 10-point halftime lead to fall 78-69 to UK in the national title game.
Following the first tournament loss to the Wildcats in '93, Majerus quipped: "They have all those McDonald's All-Americas. We have four guys on our team who don't even have a McDonald's in their town."
"I'm not a big Gay guy."
Majerus discussing why he wasn't the biggest fan of former Connecticut star Rudy Gay is still one of the most popular college basketball videos on YouTube. Part of the reason it's so enjoyable is because he genuinely seems to have no idea why what he just said might be viewed as comical. Steve Lavin does, though.
Unintentionally hilarious is still hilarious.
"Jay, you're probably one of those guys who gets out of the shower when he needs to take a piss."
Another gem from Majerus' ESPN days. He actually said this in studio during an exchange with Jay Bilas who was covering the Maui Invitational. Bilas spent the next five minutes trying to muffle his laughter while the game was going on.
Perhaps the one word that became more synonymous with Majerus than any other. His Midwestern pronunciation of "offense" became an unintended catchphrase that made viewers and co-workers chuckle despite Majerus' serious intentions.
"If these guys look to Brian and his career, we have a good chance of...being back."
What would ultimately be Majerus' final press conference is difficult to watch knowing what we do now, but you still should. It's almost as if he knew.
In the end, he was brilliant, he was crass, he was unintentionally hilarious and intentionally hilarious, and he was one of college basketball's all-time favorite characters. He will be missed.