Rick Majerus, the jovial college basketball coach who led Utah to the 1998 NCAA final and had only one losing season in 25 years with four schools, died Saturday. He was 64.
Utah industrialist Jon Huntsman, the coach’s longtime friend, confirmed in a statement released through The Salt Lake Tribune that Majerus died of heart failure in a Los Angeles hospital. The coach had been hospitalized there for several months.
Players remembered Majerus, who got his start as a longtime assistant under Al McGuire at Marquette, as a coach who was exacting and perhaps a bit unorthodox at times, but always fair. Majerus was known for assembling rosters with an international flair, and his final team at Saint Louis had players from Australia and New Zealand.
‘‘It was a unique experience, I’ll tell you that, and I loved every minute of it,’’ said Saint Louis guard Kyle Cassity, who was mostly a backup on last season’s 26-win team after starting for Majerus earlier in his college career. ‘‘A lot of people questioned the way he did things, but I loved it. He’d be hard as hell on you, but he really cared.’’
Saint Louis athletic director Chris May said in a statement that what he would remember most about Majerus ‘‘was his enduring passion to see his players excel both on and off the court.’’
‘‘He truly embraced the term ‘student-athlete,’ and I think that will be his lasting legacy,’’ May added.
The school announced Nov. 19 that Majerus wouldn’t return to Saint Louis because of the heart condition. He ended the school’s 12-year NCAA tournament drought last season, and bounced back from his only losing season, with a team that won its opening game and took top regional seed Michigan State to the wire. The Billikens were ranked for the first time since 1994-95.
Majerus was undergoing evaluation and treatment in California for the ongoing heart trouble and the school announced he was on leave in late August.
Loyola of Chicago coach Porter Moser, an assistant under Majerus at Saint Louis from 2007-10, tweeted, ‘‘RIP to my friend and mentor Coach Majerus. I learned so much about the game and life. We lost One of the best! My heart is heavy tonight.’’
Missouri coach Frank Haith said it was a ‘‘sad day for all of college basketball.’’
‘‘Coach Majerus was a tremendous coach and one of the all-time great personalities in our profession,’’ Haith said. ‘‘Our hearts and prayers go out to Rick’s family and friends and all the wonderful student-athletes and staff at Saint Louis University.’’
Majerus had a history of heart and weight problems dating to 1989 that persisted despite a daily constitutional of a mile swim. He had a stent inserted in August 2011 in Salt Lake City and missed some games in the 2011-12 season after gashing his leg in a collision with players.
He backed out of a commitment to coach Southern California due to heart problems.