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May 5, 2015

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Thomas & Mack Turns 25:

No. 8: Tark bids farewell to UNLV faithful

Editor's Note: In conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the Thomas & Mack Center's opening on Nov. 21, 1983, the Sun is celebrating the building's colorful history with a top 25 countdown - to No. 1 on Nov. 21, 2008 - of the biggest events held inside the arena located on UNLV's campus.

Jerry Tarkanian's last game at the Thomas & Mack Center as UNLV coach should have been a celebration.

And it was. Sort of.

But the night of March 3, 1992 produced a strange confluence of emotions. A capacity crowd was on hand to say goodbye to Tark after 19 legendary years on the job. But it was Dr. Bob Maxson, the university president, who most in the packed house wanted to bid farewell -- and a not so fond one at that.

At the time, Tarkanian and Maxson were locked in a bitter power struggle. Tarkanian, whose 1991-92 team was on NCAA probation and not eligible to compete in the NCAA Tournament, resigned as coach after a photo of UNLV players sitting in a hot tub with convicted sports fixer Richie Perry appeared in the newspaper. Then he rescinded his resignation. Ultimately, Maxson won, and Tarkanian was forced out.

In the midst of all that turmoil, the Rebels, who would finish the season 26-2, struggled to beat Utah State for their 23rd consecutive victory.

"To be honest, we played terrible -- serious terrible," Rebels guard H Waldman said after the 65-53 victory.

There was a 35-minute tribute to Tarkanian after the game. The colorful coach was presented with a new Saturn. Nobody at the Thomas & Mack Center left early.

Earlier in the day, Tark had lambasted Maxson at his weekly luncheon. "University presidents like to watch battles from the top of the mountain, then come down and shoot the wounded," Tarkanian said, relaying a message he had received from an old coaching pal.

But he said little at the Thomas & Mack Center that night after taking the microphone to address the crowd.

"I can't talk," was all he said.

It was hard to tell if his emotions had gotten the best of him -- or if his legal team had advised him not to berate Maxson any further.

"Right now, we're tired of it," Waldman said, echoing the sentiment of a lot of UNLV fans.

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