Notes: 'Iconic' Majerle Still Looks Good in Purple

Story by Bob Romantic
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau

The purple tie still works.

Dan Majerle’s wardrobe won’t have to change after accepting the head coaching position for the Grand Canyon University men’s basketball program.

“I’ve always liked purple,” said Majerle, one of the most popular players in Phoenix Suns history who is still well-known in the Valley with his four restaurants and his stint as an assistant coach with the Suns since 2008.

But when Majerle was bypassed for the Suns’ head coaching position after Alvin Gentry was let go in January, the purple tie went onto the shelf.

Not for long.

“Sometimes when one door closes, another one opens. I feel extremely blessed,” Majerle said after a press conference Monday in which he received a standing ovation from about 1,000 GCU employees in attendance.

“The Suns made a decision. Obviously I didn’t agree with it, but it’s their decision,” Majerle added. “I wish them nothing but the greatest success. I have nothing but love for the Phoenix community and the Suns fans.”

He called the opportunity to
coach at Grand Canyon
University a no-brainer.

“It’s a great university, a growing university and an opportunity to stay in Phoenix and be a head coach, which is what I wanted to do,” he said. “And for them transitioning into Division I, that’s big. … It’s a perfect situation. It’s in the community I love, a place I’ve been and I expect to be here for a long time.”

Jerry Colangelo, the former Suns chairman who is serving as a special assistant to GCU President/CEO Brian Mueller in the school’s transition to Division I, said Majerle is a natural for the position.

“He’s iconic. He’s a legend in this community,” Colangelo said. “He established himself as one of the most popular players ever to wear a Suns uniform. You get the whole package with Dan Majerle.”

Hey, it worked before

This is not the first time GCU has hired a former All-Star Suns player as its head coach.

Back in 1986, Paul Westphal was brought in after he had coached one year at tiny Southwestern Bible Baptist College. All he did in two years at GCU was win an NAIA national championship and compile a 63-18 record, which is still the best winning percentage of any coach in the school’s history.

That led to an assistant coaching position with the Suns in 1989 for Westphal and, eventually, the head coaching job in Phoenix.

Keith Baker, athletic director at GCU, said Westphal made sure he surrounded himself with assistants at GCU who were familiar with the college game, and expects Majerle to do the same.

“He knows what he doesn’t know,” Baker said of Majerle. “He’ll get the right people to complement his experience and help him be successful.”

All eyes on GCU

The Valley media was at GCU in full force for Monday’s press conference. Representatives from TV channels 3, 5, 10, 12, 15 and Fox AZ were all on hand, as were members of the Arizona Republic and radio stations KTAR, KDUS and XTRA.

A different media perspective

Rick Davis, an editor and cameraman at Fox Ch. 10, knows GCU basketball better than any media member in the Valley. His son, Blake, is a junior forward on the team.

“I think it’s a win-win situation,” Rick Davis said of Majerle’s hiring. “In building off the success that Russ (Pennell) had, I think it’s an opportunity for the school to go to another level. The sky is the limit.

“It will be interesting to see how they do next year with an NBA guy as a coach who knows the game very well. They can’t go to the NCAA tournament, but there are other tournaments. The goals are still out there.”

Davis has covered Majerle since the early 1990s when the Suns were a perennial playoff power, including the ’93 trip to the NBA Finals.

“He doesn’t remember it because he was so young, but Blake and I spent a lot of time celebrating Suns’ wins when he was little,” Davis said.

Support from a former Sun

Tim Kempton, a former teammate of Majerle’s with the Suns, was on hand for Monday’s press conference.

“He and I are still good buddies. I’m very happy for him,” Kempton said. “Dan is very knowledgeable about the game and he’s worked very hard at his craft over the years. As a player, he put a lot of time and effort in dark offices going over video.”

When Majerle came into the NBA, he earned the “Thunder Dan’ nickname because of his rugged play and thunderous dunks. Later in his career, he changed to more of a perimeter shooter and defensive specialist, becoming one of the top 3-point shooters in the game.

“Dan played the game very hard,” Kempton said. “From that standpoint, his teams will do well. He’s been very successful everywhere he’s been.”

Coaching is in the genes

Dan Majerle doesn’t have any head coaching experience, having served as an assistant with the Suns since 2008. But it is in the family’s bloodlines.

Dan’s brother, Steve Majerle, has been a high school basketball head coach in Michigan for more than two decades and was inducted into the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan Hall of Fame in 2010.

His 2003-03 team won the Class A state championship with a 28-0 record, only the second team in Michigan to go unbeaten in accomplishing the feat in Class A.

Steve Majerle’s son, Ryan (Dan’s nephew), is a player at Grand Valley State.

 Contact Bob Romantic at 639.7611 or [email protected].


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