He Just Wasn't Fit to Be Tied Down

Times Staff Writers

Five days earlier, Rick Majerus looked euphoric, standing at the USC lectern after accepting the men's basketball coaching position -- his "dream job."

On Monday, a somber and occasionally teary-eyed Majerus stood at the same lectern to officially resign as coach, saying his health and fitness were not yet at a stage where he thought he could perform his new duties.

"I made a mistake," Majerus said. "I want to apologize to USC for any inconvenience or embarrassment I may have caused them.

"I did not have any specific health issue here. There is no episode of anything. My health is good for being anything but an astronaut or a coach."

Majerus, 56, has been overweight for years. He left Utah in January after 15 seasons and 323 victories in part to get control of his health. He says he has undergone seven heart bypass operations.

When he was introduced as USC's coach Wednesday, Majerus said his health was good enough to allow him to leave his current position as a television analyst at ESPN and return to the game.

But he said self-doubt began to creep in well before the ink was dry on his five-year, $5-million deal.

"I wanted this job so bad I was in denial where my health actually is," Majerus said Monday. "Health in my case correlates to fitness. This was a special situation, and I deluded myself because of the situation.

"I realized [USC] wasn't getting the guy they hired. I came to that conclusion myself. I'm not fit for this job by my standards.... I could come here and mail it in -- get 15 wins one year, maybe 20 wins the next -- but as much as this was a dream, I couldn't do that to the kids or [Athletic Director] Mike Garrett. I can't be something I'm not."

Garrett, who met with Majerus for 30 minutes in the athletic director's office before Monday's news conference, said he did not believe USC had "rushed" into signing Majerus after firing Henry Bibby four games into the season.

"We get after it when we think we have someone that can fit us," Garrett said. "If it's an SC guy, we'll go after it in a blink of an eye."

Garrett said that senior associate athletic director Daryl Gross would continue the search for other candidates, even though Gross is leaving in late January to become the athletic director at Syracuse.

"We have a plan, and he still has a short list," Garrett said. "He knows who to go after. [A hiring] could be immediate or months off. It just depends, as we look around and start talking to people, how it works out."

Although he was surprised by the sudden resignation, Gross did not accuse Majerus of any bad-faith negotiating. He said USC officials had received a clean bill of health on Majerus before offering the position.

"The guy wasn't coming out of left field," Gross said. "It's nothing anyone could have anticipated. He's a genuine guy, a great guy. A guy who wants to go 250 miles per hour, and he's only equipped for 175 right now.

"We're still in good shape. We have plenty of great candidates, people that were very interested in this job even when Coach Majerus took this job. I don't think it will be difficult" to find another coach.

Former Iowa State and NBA coach Tim Floyd said Monday that USC had contacted him. Pepperdine Coach Paul Westphal (a USC alumnus) and Pittsburgh Coach Jamie Dixon also are considered candidates, and Texas Tech Coach Bob Knight and former NBA coach George Karl are believed to have expressed interest in the job.

Gross said interim Coach Jim Saia would be considered, but it's believed that USC, which is planning to move into a new on-campus arena in 2006, wants a "big name" to lead the program.

"Jimmy's doing a great job coaching this team now, with two wins already," Gross said. "I'm not saying he's totally out of the situation, but I will say there are some great candidates out there that will be hard for him to beat out."

USC coaches and players -- in Honolulu for the Rainbow Classic -- expressed relief that the Majerus situation had been resolved.

"It's crazy," said senior forward Jeff McMillan, expected to play against Indiana State tonight after sitting out four games because of a broken left hand.

"I thought he was definitely going to be the head coach next year. Everyone was getting ready for the Majerus era. I've never been a part of anything like that."

Neither had the rest of the Trojans, who have learned to live in the moment.

"Everything has been changing real quick," sophomore guard Lodrick Stewart said. "It's still kind of messed up how everything is going for us this year.

"It's a weird situation all the players were put in, but we still have to go out and win games. Regardless of all the coaching changes and stuff behind the scenes, we still have to perform on the court."

Saia and the rest of the coaching staff have remained focused through the upheaval.

"I have to be somewhat aware of what's going on out there so that I can address the team properly, but I just keep reminding myself: Coach the team," Saia said. "That's where my focus is but, yeah, it would be nice if.... I want people to talk about my players. That's what I'm hoping the focus turns to eventually."

Although Saia says he is confident that speculation about potential candidates and reporters' questions wouldn't faze the team ("Kids are resilient," he said), the Trojans would rather not face another round of this stuff anytime soon.

It was a relief "when we found out the coaching situation was settled, but now everything is up in the air," freshman point guard Gabe Pruitt said. "Now we don't know what's going on. It would be better for us to wait now and just not have all this other stuff going on."

Meanwhile, Majerus said he hoped to return to ESPN. As for an eventual return to coaching -- and there's already speculation he would be considered for the Indiana job if Mike Davis is fired -- Majerus wouldn't close that door.

"There are some questions that there are no answers to," Majerus said. "Right now, this is one of them."



The candidates?

Possible coaches for USC program:

* Tim Floyd, 50: The seeming front-runner has coached in college -- Iowa State, New Orleans, Idaho -- and the NBA, with the Chicago Bulls and New Orleans Hornets.

* Paul Westphal, 54: The Pepperdine coach and USC alumnus has also coached in the NBA, taking the Phoenix Suns to the 1993 Finals.

* George Karl, 53: The former North Carolina player is known more as an NBA coach; he took Seattle to the 1996 Finals.

* Jamie Dixon, 39: The Pittsburgh coach, Ben Howland's right-hand man before Howland went to UCLA, is from North Hollywood and considered a rising star.

* Bob Knight, 64: The wild card of the bunch, the General has let it be known to friends he may be receptive to talking with USC -- if he's not still at Texas Tech.

-- Paul Gutierrez


Reid reported from Honolulu, Terry from Los Angeles.

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