Saint Louis U. is doing a wonderful thing by honoring the late Hall of Fame basketball coach Rick Majerus at halftime of Saturday’s 3 p.m. game against Southern Illinois at Chaifetz Arena. Majerus died 10 years ago at age 64.

I’m about to get personal here, and I hope that it doesn’t make you uncomfortable.

When I got the call on that Saturday night — Dec. 1, 2012 —  dropped my phone and broke down, weeping for at least 10 minutes. My cherished memories of Coach are embedded in my heart. It’s corny, I know. And I don’t normally share these deeply personal thoughts and emotions. But Rick was different. We connected. We had much in common, including a lifelong struggle to control our weight and the psychological wounds that were part of that. We were very public people who often preferred solitude. We both had antisocial tendencies, and I don’t know why. But we were comfortable in each other’s company and that can be surprisingly hard to find. We shared many meals, many stories, and many laughs. We discussed politics, books, films, history, food, religion, and our failings.

All of it and more. I miss him. I miss him because I could talk to him – openly and honestly – about personal issues and challenges, health concerns, the demands of life, what it was like to be different and not fit into anyone’s traditional box. And there was the challenge of dealing with the depression that touched both of us. He understood me. I understood him. The moral support was incredible.

I could share anything with him … things I would not, or could not, share with anyone else. As I have learned in subsequent years … there are very few people I can turn to when I need to find a way out of the sadness. Depression is hell, and Rick could always pull me out of it, if even for a little while … because he knew. Because he lived through these strains. Because he had a human touch that could lessen anyone’s burden. I was there for him, too. Though not enough. I wish there were more dinners, more conversations, more driving tours of St. Louis … more of those shared times when we could slow everything down … including ourselves.

During our relatively brief friendship I saw Rick cry, saw him giggle, saw him question himself and relive his regrets. I know he was volatile, and that could be uncomfortable for those around him. I watched him get angry at times. I also know that Rick Majerus had flaws, but that made him more real, more relatable. Give me a friend who puts it all out there instead of playing it safe and being a phony. For better (most of the time) or worse, Rick was an original who did not try to be someone else to fit a more politically correct profile. He was delightfully eccentric, which is something about him I’ll always treasure.

Majerus could be really hard on his players, but I was fortunate to know him in a way that had nothing to do with basketball. I definitely know this: he loved his players, too. A lot. Maybe that was why he stayed on them, pushing them to the limit to make them better. And if any of the players needed his help, he was incredibly compassionate and ready to provide counsel and comfort.

When Rick coached the last game of his career and life – a close NCAA Tournament loss to Michigan State back in the spring of 2012 – he got emotional during what turned out to be his final news conference. I think he knew that he was heading to an ominous place with his heart health. I spent some time with him in a hallway outside the locker room, both of us sitting on chairs across from each other. He was so down — morose, even – and I didn’t understand why. He talked about an upcoming recruiting trip, but it wasn’t convincing. He sort of drifted away in his thoughts, and in a few minutes he said goodbye and walked down the hall. I never saw him again. Never had the chance to speak with him again. He knew where he was headed, and there would be no turning back. Can you even comprehend the magnitude of his sadness at that time? I later came to realize that his mood on that final basketball day made sense.

I can tell you without hesitancy or phoniness that Rick Majerus loved coaching at St. Louis U. It was the perfect time in his life to take on a rebuild at a Jesuit University that fit his strong Catholic faith. It was a gift to know him, and I won’t stop missing him. But SLU’s decision to honor Rick Majerus is a tremendous gesture of kindness and gratitude, and just the right touch, so a sincere thanks goes out to director of athletics Chris May, coach Travis Ford and everyone else at SLU who played a role in the decision to give us a chance to remember Rick.

The ceremony will stir emotions, and that’s good for the soul. To remember the big man is to love him all over again … and to laugh and cry with him again … and to feel more alive. That’s Rick. He always could do that, whether it was over a bowl of pasta or in a quiet hallway only a few feet away from the basketball court. Saturday he will be there only in memory, and in ceremony. But he will be there, and we will be blessed to feel the connection.

Thank you for reading this.


Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.