Majerus to coach Trojans

Posted: Thursday, December 16, 2004

He retired nearly a year ago for health reasons after 15 seasons at Utah, but he couldn't stay away from his life's passion. On Wednesday, Majerus took over the program at Southern California although he won't be on the bench this season.

Majerus signed a multiyear contract and will take over as head coach April 1. However, he'll begin recruiting immediately, filling the assistant's job vacated when Jim Saia was promoted to interim head coach after Bibby's firing.

When Majerus wasn't on camera analyzing college games for ESPN, he was talking X's and O's with his legion of coaching buddies around the country.

So after USC fired Henry Bibby last week, Majerus happily signed on to revive a program that has languished for years at a school known for its national championship football team. The Trojans also play second fiddle to crosstown rival UCLA's tradition-rich basketball legacy.

''I'm so excited about the possibilities that are here,'' Majerus said at a campus news conference where he interspersed basketball terms with food groups. ''I love Southern California and I won't coach anywhere ever again, I don't think.''

Saia stood at the back of the room Wednesday but he will be running the Trojans this season.

''He's going to let me coach the team,'' Saia said. ''He wants to stay out of the fray. He doesn't want to come to games, he doesn't want to come to practice. I'm sure he'll watch us on TV and evaluate the freshmen and sophomores.''

Famous for a hearty appetite that led to heart bypass surgery in 1989 and forced two other extended leaves from Utah, the 56-year-old Majerus has battled weight problems for years.

''My health is good or I wouldn't do this,'' he said. ''Both my doctors encouraged me to do it. I wouldn't put anyone, least of all myself, in harm's way.''

Majerus was quick to note he's never had a heart attack.

''I've had seven bypasses — one for every major food group, and I told people two for the barbecue division,'' he said, drawing laughter. ''En route to those seven bypasses, I enjoyed every Fuzzy Navel and pizza and Kahlua and cream.''

He briefly got serious, saying, ''Could I have a heart attack? Sure. I could get cancer. I could get hit on one of these freeways.''

Then he turned funny, clearly aware of Los Angeles' emphasis on looking good and being fit.

''I've got to eat where Jennifer Aniston eats,'' he joked. ''I got to find these salad places.''

Majerus swims a mile daily and rides an exercise bike. He plans to hire a cook and buy a house rather than live in a hotel like he did during his tenure in Salt Lake City.

''Working out has never been a problem. My problem is I eat,'' he said.

USC athletic director Mike Garrett said the school carefully checked Majerus' health records and had him meet with its doctors.

''There is no issue here about his health,'' Garrett said, adding he would be satisfied to have Majerus for any amount of time.

''We need someone who can come in here and turn this program around,'' Garrett said.

USC recently began construction on a campus arena that is expected to open in 2006. Currently, the Trojans play in the aging Sports Arena located off campus, which has hurt recruiting.

''I'd come here even if there wasn't a new arena,'' Majerus said. ''It's an add-on.''

Bibby was fired four games into his ninth season. The Trojans are 1-1 since Saia took over. Bibby had a 131-111 record at USC and took the Trojans to three NCAA tournaments.

Saia and Majerus planned to have dinner Wednesday night and discuss a possible role for Saia next season.

''He's got the restaurant picked out,'' Saia said.

Majerus was in the first year of a 5-year deal with ESPN before he resigned. He worked his last game for the network Monday night in Philadelphia, where Wake Forest beat Temple.

He coached Utah to the national championship game in 1998, losing to Kentucky, one of the school's 10 NCAA tournament appearances during his tenure. His other coaching stints were at Ball State, Marquette and with the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks as an assistant.

Majerus said he's looking forward to joining USC football coach Pete Carroll in the athletic department.

''If he needs a Gilbert Brown-type player on occasion, maybe I'll wander by football practice and plug up the offensive line,'' the portly coach said, referring to the 340-pound former Green Bay defensive tackle.

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