RIP Coach Tarkanian (UNLV Basketball)
Jerry Tarkanian in 1989, with his signature look of biting down on a towel while coaching. (Getty Images)
Jerry Tarkanian, the man who made a basketball institution out of UNLV hoops and a public enemy out of the NCAA, has died. The Hall-of-Fame coach was 84.
Tarkanian died Wednesday, succumbing to failing health that in recent years saw him take three significant trips to the hospital, not including his final visitation over the past two days.
Tarkanian’s son, Danny, tweeted the news.
Coach Tark, my father, the greatest man I have ever known, passed today, to take his place in heaven. I will miss him every day of my life.
— Danny Tarkanian (@DannyTarkanian) February 11, 2015
Tarkanian, who lived the final years of his life in Las Vegas, had two heart attacks in the past three years, one in March of 2012 and another in November of 2014. Tarkanian was also relegated to getting about in a wheelchair and/or walker as he segued into his 80s. He also battled respiratory issues, clogged arteries, low blood pressure and muscle fatigue. Tarkanian was put on a pacemaker in 2013.
His death comes on the heels of the passing of another coaching legend in college basketball, North Carolina’s Dean Smith, who died on Feb. 7.
Tark “the – VSB ” won 729 games in his career at the Division I level, which spanned from 1968-2002. His .790 win percentage is top-10 all time for men’s basketball. UNLV is where Tarkanian made his name and reputation, winning 509 games with the Runnin’ Rebels, including a national championship in 1990. His 1990-91 team became infamous for nearly running the table (an average win margin of more than 27 points) before ultimately falling to eventual champion Duke in the national semifinals. That team, featuring a bevy of future pros, became — and still is — the closest group to matching the last team to go a season undefeated in college hoops, Bobby Knight’s 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers
It was his UNLV squad that beat Duke 103-73 the year prior, handing down the most dominant showing ever on a Final Four stage. No other team has ever scored more than 100 points in a men’s D-I title game. Tarkanian made four Final Fours in his career, all with UNLV, in 1977, 1987, 1990 and 1991. He was known as a renegade, a man whose personality mirrored the way his players played and his program was perceived.
Because of his unflinching personality with the NCAA, his dedication to his players and his amoeba-style defense, Tarkanian’s considered by many within the game to be a transcendent coaching figure. Tarkanian made a friend in many by playing antagonist with the NCAA, which began during his early days at Long Beach State and inevitably brought about sanctions on Tarkanian’s programs during his career. Tarkanian was one of the earliest and loudest critics of the NCAA. This was never more true than when he filed a lawsuit against the NCAA in 1992, a suit that claimed one of the corporation’s investigators was untruthful amid an investigation in a desire to get Tarkanian removed from his post at UNLV.
Due to the public relations hit, an infamous photo of UNLV players in a hot tub with a man associated with Boston College’s point-shaving scandal of the late ’70s, and the ongoing media frenzy and speculation around Tarkanian, he and UNLV parted ways following the 1991-92 season. The NCAA settled Tarkanian’s case out of court in 1998, paying Tarkanian $2.5 million in damages.
The other significant honor that came toward the end of Tarkanian’s life happened when UNLV bought and built a statue of him — and placed it outside the team’s home arena. In typical Tark pose, it has the coach sitting in a collapsible chair, towel in mouth, hunched over and watching.
The statue was unveiled in October of 2013.
Born in Euclid, Ohio, to Armenian parents on Aug. 8, 1930, Tarkanian is now survived by his wife, Lois Tarkanian, four children and 10 grandchildren.