I always thought this day might come, but I had never hoped to type these words: Rick Majerus is now the former head coach of the Saint Louis University men’s basketball team.
My relationship with Majerus began my sophomore year when I became the basketball beat writer for The University News. I heard the stories and read the profiles. I expected to encounter a sour man who had no intent on making my job as a student journalist easy.
In fact, I was so nervous about asking him a question that it took three post-game press conferences for me to speak up. I asked him if he was encouraged by the performance of one of his players.
“Yeah, sure,” he said. “But we lost.”
Thanks for the quote, Coach.
But, over the years, I collected great bits of wisdom, parody and mockery from the coach. Very few of his words ever made the paper simply because while Majerus was on the record, the quotes weren’t really for public consumption. I’ll always remember him saying he would kiss Kyle Cassity’s behind to get him to take open shots.
I often joked with his secretary that I could write a great coffee table book, “Big Thoughts on Life, by Rick Majerus.” It would have been a best-seller, ala “Sh*t My Dad Says” and “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell.”
But what pains me more about the end of Majerus’ career at SLU is the personal relationship I developed with Majerus. I was shocked that he knew me by name, even one time calling me just to talk about school and my future plans. I remember once he told me that my parents should be proud of the son they raised. He had hoped to get the chance to tell them that.
Before the 2011-12 season, Majerus took me out to dinner on the Hill. We talked ball, yes, but also politics, family and love. He told me about the various charities he was involved with, different people who have touched his life and how he hoped to be remembered.
At the 2011 NCAA Tournament, in front of ESPN and the like, before answering a question from me, he asked me if I had been partying in New Orleans at Mardi Gras with Brett Favre, and he told me he wish he lived my life. He also told the audience what he thought of me as a reporter.
I received a letter following my undergraduate graduation from Majerus. While I won’t give you the full contents, he complimented me on my success as a student, a college reporter and as a man. He promised to take me out for Italian when he returned to St. Louis in the fall.
It can be considered taboo in the world of journalism to be personal friends with the subjects you cover. Sure, a reporter can and should have a respectable professional relationship with the people he or she covers – it helps build trust – but there are boundaries where that relationship ends.
So, you could say it was wrong of me to befriend and be befriended by Rick Majerus. And maybe it was, but I left the contentious comments on the recorder.
But my friendship with Majerus has been a defining part of my college career. Some of my colleagues have accused me of being a “homer,” of not challenging Majerus enough on his decisions. There may be some truth to that, though I always did my very best to uphold my journalistic integrity.
It has been my pleasure to work with Coach Rick Majerus the last four years. While you may miss seeing Coach on the floor, each game reminds me that I may never see him again or hear him joke about Mitt Romney and even my sex life.
I always thought this day would come, but I hoped it wouldn’t be so soon.