ATLANTIC CITY - Rick Majerus had only one wish yesterday. He wanted to get out of Boardwalk Hall as quickly as possible and get back to St. Louis, so he could get back to coaching his basketball team.
It wasn't personal. He understands the Atlantic 10 has to hold its annual media day sometime, somewhere. And that the logical choice is the venue where the conference tournament will take place in March. What's illogical to him is that the Saint Louis Billikens play in a league based primarily half-a-continent away.
"The demographics of it are very perplexing, to say the least," said Majerus, who left ESPN in April to return to the profession he left in 2004 for health reasons after a crowd-pleasing two-decade ride. "No disrespect to you [media] guys, but I can't wait to leave.
"The Philly airport is unbelievable. I just called my secretary to see if I can fly back from Baltimore. I'll drive down there. I want to get back, to watch today's practice on film and meet with the [assistants]. We're practicing at 6 a.m. tomorrow. At night, we're taking them to see the Grizzlies and Pacers play. On Saturday, we're scrimmaging Memphis.
"It's been a tough week. I had the Missouri Coaches Association clinic, did a lot of speaking. So this is a sojourn for me. Long day. That's my big thing."
It was mostly Rick being Rick. Which has always been worth the price of admission, to say the least.
He went 422-147 in 20 seasons at Marquette (1983-86), Ball State (1987-89) and Utah (1989-2004), where in 1998 his Andre Miller-led team made it to the final game before losing to Kentucky. In 2005, he took the Southern California job.
About 15 minutes later, he changed his mind.
This time, it's different. For reasons that truly hit home.
"I'm in better health, I really am," stressed Majerus, whose Billikens (20-13 a year ago under Brad Soderberg) were picked to finish fifth out of 14 teams in the A-10. "And I'm close to Mom [who lives in Milwaukee]. I told people I enjoyed every one of my seven bypasses. I had fun with every Philly cheesesteak, every beer I drank, every ice-cream cone I ate. My mom didn't do anything to deserve to get breast cancer. You don't know. It changes your life, irrevocably so, for the rest of your life. You're scared, you're frightened, it's always in the back of your mind. There's always a fear and a quandary of, could it happen again . . .
"Sometimes, looking back, I wish I would have taken USC. I had my day when I could have had any job in America. But I couldn't, if it wasn't close to her.
"I've got a Jesuit education, so I understand that. I like the priest [Saint Louis University President Lawrence Biondi]. He's a bit like myself. Kind of a different breed of cat. I mean that affectionately. No one checks all the boxes, I don't care who it is. I was married once. You just sit there in the process, as you prioritize what's important, see if it fits and kind of go for it."
As much as anything, he enjoys being back in his element.
"I like practice," Majerus readily acknowledged. "I like keeping score. I like the kids. Every coach here would probably rather be at practice. When I was at ESPN, I missed it. There's very few things in life that, when you win, you kind of hang the moon. And when you lose, it's like playing handball against the curb. In any other endeavor in my life, I haven't had that kind of emotional swing. Practice was always the nicest part of my day. Games, once they started, were great. I hated game day, until they started.
"I'm in business now with a company. We could go bankrupt, or we could make a big hit. It won't be the thrill of what it's like winning a game. It's good to have a little action on the line. It's like the old quote: Most men lead lives of quiet desperation. Coaches don't lead that life. Every day, that arrow points up or down. ESPN was great. It was fun. But I could [comment], and there was no consequence to it. Now, there's consequence to your actions.
"Maybe I won't be good anymore. But I don't think I forgot anything . . . I'm not as familiar [with the A-10]. But that's not a concern. I don't know if I bring anything to the league. I'm hoping I can bring something to Saint Louis. Right now, that's what I'm worried about."
Especially how to get there, from here. Welcome back. *