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Mutka: Rick Majerus left a lasting impression

Utah assistant coach Tommy Conner wipes his eyes during moment silence honor former head coach Rick Majerus who died Saturday

Utah assistant coach Tommy Conner wipes his eyes during a moment of silence in honor of former head coach Rick Majerus, who died Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, before an NCAA college basketball game between Utah and Boise State, Wednesday, Dec. 5, in Salt Lake City. Numerous video tributes and a patch on Utah uniforms memorialized Majerus. The coaching staff all wore sweaters in the memory of Majerus and they placed an empty chair courtside draped with one of his actual trademark cream sweaters. Utah won 76-55. (AP Photo/The Salt Lake Tribune, Steve Griffin) DESERET NEWS OUT; LOCAL TV OUT; MAGS OUT

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Updated: December 16, 2012 11:52PM



My only personal brush with Rick Majerus made a lasting impression. Enough to list the recently deceased coach among my five most unforgettable sports characters.

We met during his two years at Ball State when I made a trip to Muncie to do a series of articles on his part in their renaissance, which included a 43-17 record and the Cardinals’ first-ever NCAA tournament victory (68-64 over Pittsburgh in 1989).

Walking into his office, I quickly realized this would not be your typical one-on-one interview.

In cramped quarters he sat behind a battered desk clad in sweats, firmly grasping a Subway sandwich. His nonchalant greeting blew the traditional handshake out of the water. Tearing the sandwich in half, Majerus offered the bigger chunk to me. As for his time, he was even more generous.

During my day-and-a-half on campus I learned that the Sheboygan, Wis. native was a stout union supporter, probably because his dad once held a high office with the United Auto Workers.

While at Ball State, Majerus commuted daily from an Indianapolis hotel to coach the Cardinals, who cruised to a school record 29 victories in 1988-89.

Basketball and fine-dining seemed to be his favorite topics. Majerus readily ticked off names of restaurants he frequented during recruiting trips. His favorite oasis in Northwest Indiana seemed to be Rodini’s, a restaurant on U.S. 421 in Michigan City. My wife and I made several visits to confirm his high opinion.

The pot-bellied genius used Ball State as a springboard to Utah, where he accumulated 323 of his 522 victories. In 1998 his Utes reached the national championship game, losing to Kentucky. Majerus left a strong nucleus for Dick Hunsaker, who guided the Cardinals to the Sweet Sixteen in 1990 with Paris McCurdy and Curtis Kidd starring.

Majerus started with Marquette legend Al McGuire, who gave a would-be walk-on a job as his assistant coach in 1971. It finished in St. Louis, where Majerus ended a 12-year NCAA drought for the Billikens before losing his final battle to a stressed-out heart.

Regrettably our paths never crossed again, but I’ll think of him every time I eat a subway sandwich. I’ll gobble them while reading his autobiography: “My Life on a Napkin.”

Irish hype: Don’t get me wrong, Manti T’eo is destined for greatness, but didn’t deserve a Heisman Trophy in his resume. It’s always been and always will be an offensive award. No matter what he meant to the Fighting Irish, no linebacker can impact the game like a quarterback, which is why the award nearly always springs from that position.

Playing in the Southeastern Conference, the premier league, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel threw for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns. In guiding the Aggies to a 10-2 record, he led the SEC in rushing and broke the league record set by 2010 Heisman winner Cam Newton.

In a 29-24 victory at Alabama, the redshirt freshman mustered all but 70 of the Aggies’ 415 yards. He also completed 30 of 36 for 311 yards and scored twice in a victory over Mississippi State, which will be playing Northwestern in the Gator Bowl. Can’t argue with those numbers.

Not bad for the kid from Kerrville, Texas, who evolved from designated backup to Jameill Showers to All-American.

To compare his numbers with T’eo’s tackles is beyond ludicrous, but Notre Dame’s relentless hype machine nearly triumphed over reason.

Speaking of ludicrous: Forget about the Big Ten ... It’s time for a name change with Rutgers and Maryland coming into the fold. How about the “Too-Big-for-their-britches Fourteen”?

By the way, what do they add other than exposure to the eastern market? Greed and power defines this arms race. TV continues to be the tail that wags the dog.

To be fair, I can’t wait to see Rutgers vs. Minnesota in football or Northwestern vs. Maryland in basketball. Those thrilling matchups surely get your blood racing and your pulse pounding, don’t they?

What message does this send to travel-weary athletes juggling classes with cross-country agendas? Zip, nada, zilch. They’ll need six years to graduate, assuming they’re interested in an education.

Scholar-athletes, my behind. Feed the beast. Yeah, baby.

Putting sarcasm briefly aside, let’s see what football alignments might evolve. How about this (changes in bold):

LEGENDS — Nebraska, Northwestern, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, Minnesota.

LEADERS — Indiana, Purdue, Penn State, Rutgers, Wisconsin, Maryland, Ohio State.

I’m assuming no more changes are forthcoming, but don’t be surprised if the Big Ten becomes the Sweet Sixteen before analysts can digest the latest move.



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