A salute to legendary basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian

Sundial reporter Julius Lasin pays a tribute to legendary UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian. Photo courtesy of Tribune News Services

Legendary University of Nevada, Las Vegas coach Jerry Tarkanian, died Wednesday Feb. 11 after battling mounting health issues recent years.

 

Tarkanian was initially taken to the hospital on Feb.9 as a result of low blood pressure and an infection.

 

He is widely recognized as the architect of the behind the UNLV dynasties in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and during his tenure at UNLV, he led the Rebels to one national title and four Final Four appearances.

 

In addition to his success in college, Tarkanian was able to groom and produce a multitude of pro prospects. One of his most notable pupils is current CSUN head coach Reggie Theus, who was drafted ninth overall in the 1978 NBA Draft after spending four years under Tarkanian’s tutelage.

 

“He contributed so much to the game,” Theus said. “He was an innovator.”

 

Moreover, he was known for his jovial attitude on and off the court, which helped him become a “player’s coach.”

 

“He was a very funny man,” Theus said. “He was always saying a lot of funny things, a lot of jokes.”

 

Despite his affable personality and buoyant nature, his most amiable quality was his commitment to winning.

 

“The best thing was the winning,” Theus said. “The moments that we had as a team winning.”

In his 20 years as head coach of the Rebels, Tarkanian cultivated an up-tempo, aggressive playing style that was instrumental in his teams’ success.

“He showed me as a player that the game was about hard work,” Theus said. “He showed me as a player that the game can be played at a tempo that is pressure offensively and defensively. He made defense important to me.”

But with the winning came controversy. His head coaching stops at Long Beach State, UNLV and Fresno State were all marred with probation and NCAA investigations.

Every step of the way, Tarkanian stood firm in his belief that the NCAA was out to hinder him.

Amidst the controversy, however, Tarkanian remained the fun-loving, towel-chewing head coach that those around him adored.

Tarkanian was born on Aug. 8, 1930 in Euclid, Ohio, to a pair of Armenian immigrants.

He eventually moved to California to attend and play basketball at Pasadena Community College from 1950-1951, before transferring to Fresno State, where he played from 1954-1955.

After college, Tarkanian went directly into coaching, and became the head coach at multiple high schools and community colleges (including Pasadena Community College) in California, before landing a job at Long Beach State.

At Long Beach State, Tarkanian was able to lead the program to four NCAA tournament births in five years (1968-1973).

Following his stint at Long Beach State, Tarkanian spent the next 19 years (1973-1992) at UNLV, where he helped elevate a program and city, with his success, before an NCAA investigation prompted his exit.

The sudden end to his time at UNLV led to a brief tenure with the San Antonio Spurs. However, a 9-11 led to his firing.

The last stop of Tarkanian’s coaching journey would be at his alma mater, Fresno State, where he led the Bulldogs to two NCAA tournament appearances from 1995-2002.

All of Tarkanian’s coaching success came to fruition when he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.

Tarkanian is survived by his wife, Lois, and his four children, Danny, George, Jodie and Pamela.