Lee Zaichick / Sun File Photo
Monday, March 9, 2009 | midnight
Jerry Tarkanian defines UNLV basketball. The Runnin' Rebels play on a court dedicated in his name. He has streets and a school named after him. He coached the Rebels to the only national title in school history and is still a legend in Vegas.
“He was an iconic figure, even to us,” former Rebels star Greg Anthony said. “Sometimes we were even in awe of him.”
For 19 seasons (1973-92) at the helm of the Runnin’ Rebels, Tarkanian simply won games. During his Division I head coaching career, Tarkanian collected 729 victories, including a 509-105 record with UNLV.
UNLV has gone through seven coaches since Tarkanian’s departure in 1992, but Tark’s legacy still resonates with the Rebels and their fans.
With “The Shark” in control, postseason success changed from an aberration to the expectation, helping elevate the program to national prominence. Appearances in the NCAA tournament by Tark’s “run and gun” teams became commonplace as the Rebels advanced to the postseason 14 times during Tarkanian’s tenure, including nine consecutive seasons (1983-91). Four times Tark took the Rebels to the Final Four.
“He gave you amazing confidence in your ability as a player, and as a person,” Anthony said.
The pinnacle of Tarkanian’s career came in 1990 when the Rebels won the NCAA tournament. The next season he took his squad back to the Final Four.
UNLV has not returned to the Final Four since ‘91, when Tark’s previously unbeaten Rebels lost to Duke 77-79 in one of the biggest upsets of NCAA tournament history. The ’91 Rebels are the last team to go through a regular season undefeated.
Tarkanian ushered in an era of greatness for UNLV basketball, coaching some of the best players in school history, like Stacy Augmon, Reggie Theus, Sidney Green, Glen Gondrezick, Ricky Sobers and Armon Gilliam, who all have their jerseys hanging from the Thomas & Mack rafters.
“He got the most out of your ability and he was able to adapt to the players he had,” said former UNLV standout and current Rebels radio analyst, Glen “Gondo” Gondrezick.
The success of Tark’s teams helped build the Thomas & Mack Center, which opened in 1983; the same year Tarkanian was named the National Coach of the Year.
Just as success accompanied Tark’s time with the Rebels, so did controversy. Tark's flashy, high scoring teams delighted Vegas fans and irked the NCAA. With Tarkanian in control, the NCAA seemed to have a target on the UNLV program, and the Shark battled with the NCAA for much of his career.
In 1977, the NCAA put UNLV on a two-year probation for alleged recruiting violations and tried to suspend Tarkanian during that time. He fought the suspension, and won a state court injunction allowing him to continue coaching.
After years of battling with the NCAA, Tark had the final laugh in 1998, when the NCAA paid him $2.5 million to settle a lawsuit alleging the NCAA had tried to drive him from college basketball.
Tark currently has a radio show in Fresno, Calif., and writes the blog “Shark Bytes” for the Las Vegas Sun.