Sunday, December 30, 2012

Coach Majerus

Coach Majerus passed away a few weeks ago.  And, while I feel like I saw a bunch of reports and tributes about his legacy as a Coach, there was so little published about Coach off the court.  I noticed a few of the write ups I loved most were from those who were closest to him.  I feel like they really captured the essence of who he really was.  Sure, he was a great Coach, with a great record, but outside of basketball, he was just as passionate about developing people and genuinely helping wherever he could.

I remember when I went in to interview for the position.  Fresh out of high school, I headed up and met with the full time secretary.  She gave me the run down of jobs I'd be doing in the office and said that our job was to make it so Coach could just think about basketball.  And nothing else.  She thought I was a good fit, but told me I'd need to meet with Coach before anything was a go.  I headed up to his hotel (he never worked in the office), where in between phone calls and chicken scratch notes on a paper he asked me what my plans were, if I could work hard and if I'd listen.  And that was it.  He moved on to business as usual as I scrambled to find a pen and paper to write down all the information he was giving me to pass along to everyone at the office.  Before I walked out he told me one last thing.  "you can work here until you graduate, but that is it.  You can't stay.  Then you'll need to go get a real job.  And don't date my players.  It's a distraction."

The next four years were a bit of a blur.   Work was challenging, extremely intense and busy, but I genuinely enjoyed it.  I loved the energy, the chaos, and the constant managing of a bazillion different things at once.  And, I did my part to make sure he could worry less about everything else in his life, and focus just on basketball.  Sometimes that was easy.  Sometimes that was tough.  But you learned real quick how to fix it the next time.  I don't know when, but I remember getting to the point where I felt like I was doing less scrambling and more predicting.  Like any job, you can start to see patterns, and finding those patterns in Coach, while complicated, was refreshing when you already had the answer to something he didn't expect.  But, like any mentor, he'd clue in on your capability, and then push you some more.

Over the years, I remember a few times where I really needed his help or opinion.  Like when the dance team really needed help with getting some shoes and sweats.  And how he didn't hesitate for one second.  Or when I had to tell him that I was dating one of his players.  Which he just laughed and smiled a bit, and then gave dating advice.  Then when I told him I was marrying one of his players.  Again, he smiled, and then gave lots of marriage advice.  Or when I really wanted to leave for a study abroad program, and still come back to a job.  And he didn't hesitate to tell me to go, gain experiences and to come right back.  And then, when I graduated, and driving home from the airport that summer, I told him I was ready to take his advice, and move on to a career.  Knowing how stressful transitions were for him, I felt terrible, but he never once complained.  He told me I was ready, I needed to move on, and he thought I'd be great in advertising.  Then he said he'd get me a job.  Which he did (well, he got me the interview, the rest was up to me).   

I think back on how genuine and giving he was.  I can't even count the number of gifts he sent, letters he wrote, or contributions he made.  Not to mention how he remembered every birthday, and all the holidays - including secretary's day.  He bought us lunch at least a couple times a week.

One year for his birthday, we (as in the three secretaries), didn't know what to give the guy who has everything, so we all donated some of our money to a cancer fund in his name.  I still remember how he was teary eyed when he looked at the card.  Then he moved right into business as usual.

He created such stress and perfection.  Things organized, perfect grammar, everyone on time, and everything coordinated immediately.  It was tough to pull off (sometimes it didn't happen, or you'd wake up in the middle of the night panicking over one tiny detail), but it taught me so much.  So much of how and why I write, I learned from him.  Because when it was wrong, he took the time to correct it.  And then had me do it again.  And again.  Like the college professor that never left your side for four years.

If you ask Mike about his memories of Coach, his fall more in line with those you heard from the basketball players that were interviewed.  I think a part of him wished he could have seen more of the Coach I saw.  Funny enough, I never saw Coach as "Coach."  He didn't allow the secretaries in practice - and on the rare occasion that you were supposed to be close or available, he still wanted you as far away from the floor as possible.

Often, I'd be working along side him as he multi-tasked an interview or two.  He was unbelievable at trying to maximize his work time off of the court.  His memory was astounding.  It would surprise me to listen to him recall facts and specific details from not only basketball, but literary quotes, or childhood memories.  My heart still races with anxiety when I think about how he'd do all of this while driving to the airport to catch his flight that he was late for (again).  I can't even count how many times I held my breath as he sped his way down the hill.  Of course, I was never just a passenger, instead I was writing as fast as possible to jot down all of the contacts he wanted called, appointments set up, you name it.

Did the guy love food?  You bet.  Anytime I scheduled a vacation, he'd invent some reason to be sure to catch me the day before I'd leave.  He'd ask where I was headed, then name two of his favorite restaurants, the location and who to talk to for the meal.  Then he'd slip me some cash so I could actually eat there.  And then follow up.  Even now, Mike and I headed to a popular place in MN before we left town, and found this pic on the wall.


Upon leaving, he made a point to meet with me on my last day.  He stood awkwardly and covered all the business details for the day and wanted to be sure I'd trained the new girl well.  Then I could tell he really wanted to give me some advice.  Wrapping his arm over his head and scratching it, you could tell he was thinking.  Then he said, "You're married to a good guy.  You're young, you're fit.  Go have a bunch of kids and a good family."  Then he gave me a big hug.  At the time, I thought his advice so odd as I was just starting off on a "career" but as with most advice that you get, with time, I now see where he was coming from.  So grateful I had such a unique chance to get to know him.

Rest peacefully, Coach.

1 comment:

Heather said...

Beautiful tribute!