Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, Sept. 6, 2013 | 2 a.m.
When Jerry Tarkanian arrived in Las Vegas in the early 1970s as the UNLV basketball coach, not even the most optimistic supporter could have imagined how far he would take the program.
A few years later in 1977, Tarkanian led the Rebels to the first of four Final Four appearances in building what quickly blossomed into one of the nation’s powerhouse programs.
Soon, locals were packing the 6,500-seat Las Vegas Convention Center to watch Tarkanian’s team race up and down the court in scoring more than 100 points per game — a rarity in the days before the 3-point arc was adopted. Tark’s style of play required pressure defense and fast break offense leading to an endless supply of highlight-reel clips.
So, a new arena was built for the hottest ticket in town, with the Thomas & Mack Center on campus becoming home to Tark’s Runnin’ Rebels.
Starting in 1987, they played in three Final Fours in five seasons, winning the 1990 national championship and going undefeated the following year before losing in the national semifinals.
Tark’s legacy was always cemented in Las Vegas, where he’s long been considered a treasure. He gave this town a winner — to this day, UNLV basketball is the only team Southern Nevadans are passionate about.
Sunday, after years of being snubbed for the game’s top honor, Tarkanian will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, cementing his place in Springfield, Mass., alongside the best of the best.
Locals who were along for the ride during the glory years remember stories of Tarkanian and his great teams as if it were yesterday. Those closest to Tarkanian are the same.
The Sun asked some former players and coaches, and others affiliated with UNLV, to share their favorite anecdotes:
Dave Rice — UNLV’s coach and a member of the 1990 national championship team
Coach Tarkanian gave me a wonderful opportunity to come to UNLV as a scholarship player and be part of two Final Four teams and on the team that won the national championship in 1990.
It was in the spring of 1991 that coach Tark came to me with a job offer that would change my life. He said he had a spot on his staff that would be available after I graduated that May.
Coach Tark told me he had seen something in me that made him believe I had a future in coaching. I had always planned to go to law school or medical school, but the chance to be on his staff excited me.
I will always be grateful to him for giving me my start in coaching.
It was 20 years later, in April 2011, that coach Tark was sitting at a press conference at the Thomas & Mack as I was named head coach of the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels.
I learned so many lessons the year I worked on coach Tark’s staff — lessons I still carry with me today.
In 1991, we lost our entire starting five and were 34-1. By that time, coach Tarkanian had become known as a great pressure man-to-man defensive coach.
Yet after a 3-2 start in the 1992 season, he made the decision to play a zone defense. He didn’t let his identity as a pressure defense coach get in the way of what was best for the team.
We won our next 23 games and finished 26-2.
Another thing he did so well was hiring quality staff and empowering his coaches to do their jobs. He had sensational assistants, but there was never a doubt coach Tark was in charge.
Coach Tarkanian is truly an innovator. He combined fundamentally sound, pressure defense with a fast-paced offensive transition as well as any coach in college basketball.
All the former Runnin’ Rebels players, coaches and support staff members, as well as fans, are proud to share this incredible honor with coach Tark.
The Mayors Goodman — Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn and her husband, Oscar, the city’s former mayor
Jerry Tarkanian is not only a legendary coach and personality, he is also one of us — a Las Vegan. Jerry embodies the spirit of Las Vegas as a place where anything is possible and your wildest dreams can come true.
Who would have thought that a small western university could rise to have the top college basketball team in the country? Jerry had that belief, and he also believed in this community and the young men who came to play for him.
Jerry gave people second chances and gave them the opportunity to succeed on and off the court. What a legacy he has built.
The Thomas & Mack Center, with sellout crowds and a glitzy Las Vegas fireworks opening, was a great experience while Jerry prowled the sidelines. Those of us who have been here a little longer have fond memories of the days at the Silver Dome over at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
The Silver Dome packed in 6,300 screaming Rebels fans that thrilled to the exploits of the “Hardway Eight.”
Above all, Jerry is a winner and a community builder. UNLV basketball is now synonymous with the university and Las Vegas. Wherever you go in this city, the Rebels are a topic that brings everyone together, and we thank coach Tark for that.
Reggie Theus — part of the 1977 Final Four team and one of UNLV’s all-time best players
One of the things that sold me about UNLV was the university was trying to become part of the growth of the city of Las Vegas, and how important it would be for the basketball team to be successful. Coach Tarkanian said success in basketball could give Las Vegas a national appeal besides the Strip. Coach Tarkanian talked about family, the future, and the style of play that would become popular in the nation and at UNLV.
Coach Tarkanian had great one-liners and a million stories. Back in those days, the NCAA rules were a little different. You could recruit nonstop. Coach Tarkanian or assistant coach Lynn Archibald were at every one of my games. I could have gone to any school in the country, but Tark always had an edge.
Tark was one of those coaches who could sit atop any of Las Vegas’ major hotels — a celebrity among celebrities. But the very next day, coach Tarkanian would be walking the neighborhood in south central Los Angeles or any city in the country talking to a family about a player. He could relate to everybody and that was very important to him.
We were the first school to use spotlights to introduce the players before the game. Coach Tarkanian always chewed on a towel during a game. We had a great show going. The experiences were a great part of Tark’s life and his legacy.
Coach Tarkanian started the up-tempo style of basketball that became very popular. But what people don’t understand was that our opponents averaged around 25 turnovers a game. We played 40 minutes of nonstop pressure basketball. We took pride in our defense. The coaches and the players really got excited when we took a charge as well as scoring a basket.
I wouldn’t miss coach Tarkanian’s induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame for the world. I still keep in close contact with many of my teammates at UNLV. We had a great connection that can’t be topped. Those connections, the battles we went through, and the growth of Las Vegas had a lot do with the success of Runnin’ Rebel basketball.
Lon Kruger, UNLV’s coach from 2004-11
Coach Tark left an amazing mark on the college basketball world. We had the opportunity to also see firsthand the impact he had in the Las Vegas community. UNLV basketball is so intertwined within the community, and that is because of Coach Tark and what his teams meant to the fans. Those teams gave the community something to rally behind, something to bring them all together. To this day, that’s why Rebels basketball is so special and that can be attributed to coach Tark.
As we reflect back on our great years in Las Vegas, some of the best memories are when fans showed appreciation for us working to bring back former players and, of course, Coach, as part of the program. That was never a question for us. That’s Runnin’ Rebels basketball. It belongs to the fans and the community. We enjoy watching what coach Dave Rice is doing there as well because he absolutely loves the program and what it means to the community. That’s all part of the Runnin’ Rebels legacy, and it all started with coach Tark.
Kentucky coach John Calipari, one of Tarkanian’s closest friends in the industry
I was ecstatic when I learned Tark was being inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame because it’s long overdue. From everything he’s done for the game of basketball, to what he’s done for young people and how he coached, I’m happy he was finally selected.
How about this for his coaching ability: When he was at Long Beach State, they played a 3-2 zone. He came to UNLV playing the same 3-2 zone and had one of the best defensive teams in the country. Then all of a sudden he switched it over and played man-to-man. Not only did he play man-to-man, but they played the ball hard, denied the wings, they stopped drives, they got off on the weak side; it was incredible to watch them defend. So as a basketball coach, he’s done it every way possible, at all different schools, with different levels of young people. He did it and did it well.
On top of it, he was under attack. He was under the gun throughout his career and obviously, by winning lawsuits, proved it was unjust. To be able to do all the things at the highest level with the proverbial gun pointed to your head was amazing to me.
I loved it when he would call me and talk about my teams and tell me how he loved how we defended and how we played and how we opened up the court. He was with us in Hawaii (2010 Maui Invitational) and thought we would become a great defensive team and he was right. He talked to me about playing zone and all those things. I love the fact he was watching the game and watching my team personally and trying to help me and trying to help our kids get better.
What a well-deserved, great honor that was a long time coming but is so richly deserved. I think everyone who knows Tark is happy for him and proud of his day.
Mark Warkentien, New York Knicks executive and UNLV assistant from 1981 to 1987
Beyond all the titles and banners and NBA draft picks, Jerry Tarkanian’s ultimate legacy is as the champion of the underdog.
Since the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, only two non-BCS schools have won the NCAA title: Texas-El Paso and UNLV. And finally, on Sept. 9, coach Don Haskins’ soulmate — coach Tarkanian — will join him as a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Let it not be lost that both Jerry Tarkanian and Jackie Robinson grew up in Pasadena, Calif., rooted themselves in Pasadena City College and PCC’s Court of Champions. Tark delivered promise to community college kids like No. 42, offering windows of college and life opportunity that weren’t always available elsewhere.
As a 13-year old at Chemawa Junior High School in Riverside, Calif., I grew up following his teams at Riverside City College. As a 27-year-old professional neophyte, Tark took a chance on me at UNLV. Without him, I never would’ve met my wife (Moe) of 27 years, nor had my wonderful daughters (Kreigh and Aubrie), nor had the chance to be entering my 24th year in the NBA as an executive.
Like so many others, my debt to coach Tarkanian is immeasurable. Thank you, Coach.
Eldridge Hudson — part of the 1987 Final Four team
Let me start by stealing a quote from Lebron James: “It’s about damn time.” It’s amazing how long it took the NCAA to induct coach Tark into the Hall of Fame.
I could have played a lot of places, but coach Tark really sold this inner-city knucklehead called “El Hud” on Las Vegas. Coach Tark always gave inner-city kids a chance. Just check his record and see the young men he coached who are now doing well.
Coach Tark always told me I would be a great player and a better coach someday. Now, I’m a coach at Canyon Springs High School, and I’m coaching and training my two children, who have received scholarships — my daughter from Long Beach State and my son from a junior college in Arizona.
But coach Tark’s words of encouragement could be blunt. He used to say, “You sons of bitches, don’t get complacent on me.” And for many years, I thought my name was son of a bitch.
But coach Tark cared.
One moment he might be saying, “Right now, you guys could not beat Saint Mary’s girls school,” but then he’d let you know you made a great play or were doing a great job or asked, “How are you doing in class?”
Coach Tark took UNLV and propelled it to another level. There were two things in Las Vegas — the Strip and UNLV basketball.
Congratulations, coach Tark, on your induction into the Hall of Fame.
Robert Smith — part of the 1977 Final Four team
Playing for Jerry Tarkanian was one of the highlights of my life.
He demanded a lot from his players; we had to make a promise my first year at UNLV in 1974: to give 110 percent every day in practice. If the players didn’t live up to that deal, then some days they were kicked out of workouts.
But most of the guys gave it their all for the majority of the season, and that’s why from 1974 to '77 we won more than 75 of our games and only lost nine.
Each loss seemed like it took forever to get over, but we worked so hard that we wore teams down. The coaching staff that coach Tark put together was a great group of guys, Al Menendez, Lynn Archibald, Ralph Readout, George McQuarn, Dan Ayala, Dennis Hodges, Otis Allison, George Trapp, all of these men taught me about life, and then sports.
I will always remember the pressure defense, the fast-breaking offense, and the many times we scored over 100 points in a game. Back then you didn’t ask any questions, you just worked hard and got better.
Harvey Hyde, Rebels football coach from 1982 to 1985 and a childhood friend
I have known the Tarkanians for more than 60 years. After Jerry Tarkanian’s father died, they moved from Ohio to Pasadena, Calif., to a house across the street from my parents’ grocery store. I met Jerry through his brother, Myron, who has been a best friend, like the brother I did not have.
Jerry always watched over Myron, making sure he studied and didn’t get into trouble. Sometimes Jerry let us cruise with him to downtown Pasadena. Their parents were very careful with the kids, with Mom the ‘king’ (not just the queen) serving much love and great Armenian food. I know she was more concerned that Jerry got an education and not get hurt playing sports, but she would have loved to watch his teams play and would have been proud of his success.
Jerry is a persuasive guy. He convinced Myron to attend the University of Redlands, where all three of us got our master’s. It was a great decision. We met our wives there, and, later our children went to school there. We were still watched over by the big brother, Jerry.
I have always said that coach Tark coached basketball like a football coach — same attitude and intensity. He believed in giving second chances, since we had gotten them ourselves. He was sometimes criticized for being an ambassador for disadvantaged kids to whom he gave the opportunity to play basketball and work for their spot.
He was one of the most recognizable coaches in the country because of his manner and style. Jerry is loved by his players and his family. What a family … they stuck together during good times and bad. They are true fighters for what they believe in.
Jerry is someone you can look up to as a common man, who started at the bottom and landed at the top. His record speaks for itself. And justice is done as Jerry is inducted into the Hall of Fame. Congratulations to Tark the Shark!
Kansas coach Bill Self
I never thought coach Tarkanian got the credit he deserved for being an outstanding coach in getting his players to play remarkably hard and being so disciplined and good on the defensive end, in addition to giving his players freedom offensively. Making them guard the way he did was one of the reasons he was able to experience so much success.
Coach and I got to know each other quite well during my time at Tulsa when he was at Fresno (State). I was always amazed by, even after being in the business so many years, he was such a basketball junkie, always yearning to find successful ways to do things. He never hesitated to pass on congratulations or job well done to somebody he was competing against.
“Sudden” Sam Smith, part of the “Hardway Eight” 1977 Final Four team
Coach Tarkanian was envied by a lot of college and NBA coaches. When I was playing professionally, coaches would make comments like, “I’m sure you already know that, Sam,” or “Any suggestions Sam, since you come from up above?” in a condescending way.
What they couldn’t swallow is that Tark took a bunch of guys, mostly black, who nobody wanted and believed in, and made a team for himself.
Today, no college team has come close to matching the achievements of the Runnin’ Gunnin’ Rebels aka the “Hardway Eight.” It was Tark who allowed Reggie Theus and me to put the Gunnin’ in the Rebels.
Coach Tark was always quiet and low-key, but when I started shooting long shots — nowhere near the key — he would come unglued. He’d yell, “What are you doing Sam?” After the ball dropped like a coin in a Las Vegas slot machine, he would tuck his tail in and walk to his seat. He was surprised at my bold attempts, but he trusted me to shoot when I felt it.
When we were 30 points ahead, say the score 100-70, Coach would call us a bunch of loafers, that we were lagging as though we were losing the game. He wanted the best from us and he played mind games to force the lessons.
Today, he always says to me, “Sudden, you guys were the best team.” Coach Tark never really “acted” like a coach with rules and fundamentals strapped around his waist; he was more like a friend — a friend who really liked to chew on towels.
Jerry Koloskie, UNLV’s senior associate athletics director, and UNLV trainer during the national championship season
I want to thank coach Tarkanian for 10 of the greatest years I have had at UNLV. Coach Tarkanian’s success was contagious within the athletic department. At the time, as a young professional, I learned a tremendous amount from him about leadership, loyalty and commitment. I have so many great memories of those days that it would be hard to reflect on just one.
Coach Tarkanian’s belief in my abilities as an athletic trainer helped me to where I am at today, and going through those times were the best part of my 31-year career at UNLV. Congratulations on your induction into the Hall of Fame. Much deserved and long overdue.
Keith Starr, assistant coach on the 1991 Final Four team
Jerry Tarkanian was a man of detail and perfection in his coaching. He expected that of his players and assistants, something I noticed immediately when I began coaching for him in 1984 at UNLV.
I had never seen a coach work in this way to an extreme, but as basketball historians know, his coaching took our UNLV program to the top of the game.
Tark emphasized how important technique and precise movement were vital for a championship team. For example, coach Tarkanian would say, “The guards need more work on the ball defense. If they can’t keep the ball under control, nothing else matters.” He also preached, “Big men need to do the same. No one can get beat guarding the ball.” Just writing those words brings back great memories of being in the UNLV gym and working for hours just on defense.
This was my first job coaching, and coach Tarkanian’s methods fascinated me. He always let his coaches coach firsthand; other head coaches would not, but coach Tark respected his coaches’ input and direction.
To this day, I use his methods for training basketball players, and many local youth players benefit from what I learned about the great game of basketball and from a coaching master. Thank you, coach Tark.
Dick Calvert, voice of the Rebels
My recollection of Jerry Tarkanian goes back about 61 years to Pasadena, Calif. I knew his family as we all grew up in Pasadena and went to the same schools, albeit some years apart — Jerry is five years older than me; his younger brother, Myron, was a couple of years younger.
Jerry was one of the better players at Pasadena Junior College (now Pasadena City College) and I would go to most of their home games.
Tark was a starting shooting guard that could really shoot it from the wings. He had a set shot, popular in those days. That team and the guys he played with were great athletes; many went on to higher levels in various sports. Lee Walls was a big bonus player and a major-leaguer with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Others went on to the next level in basketball and football. And Jerry became one of college basketball’s best coaches.
It has been said that "when Tark was coaching during any given season, he could not tell you who the vice president of the United States was but he could tell you how many times the basketball hit the court (games and practices) during that entire season,” which is a testament to his dedicated, intense coaching style.
Jerry is not only the father of Rebel basketball, he is an icon of the sport throughout the country and is regarded as bigger than life by many. But my memory of Tark is that he was one of the boys, a regular guy, and he remains that way to me to this day.
I had the pleasure and honor to announce every game played in the Las Vegas Convention Center and Thomas & Mack Center that Jerry Tarkanian coached.
Now he is a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer. That’s super.
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada
No one in Nevada history has been able to entertain crowds like Jerry Tarkanian and his legendary Runnin’ Rebels; this includes renowned Vegas entertainers like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Cher and Celine Dion.
We know the stories of Jerry on the court, but his work off the court has been just as important.
Jerry taught young college athletes to be better people. Much of his success is a credit to his lovely wife, Lois, who invested her time to work with UNLV athletes in direct capacities, not the least of which was education.
The Tarkanian family, from Jerry and Lois to their children and grandchildren, has dedicated their blood, sweat and tears to UNLV and to Las Vegas. Jerry’s Runnin’ Rebels put UNLV on the map, and their impact isn’t going away any time soon.
Jerry’s mark on American athletics is significant not only because of his coaching ability, but also his fearlessness in taking on the brutal NCAA. They controlled, bullied and tried to embarrass him, but he never stopped fighting until they cried uncle.
I’m proud that Jerry has finally been inducted into the Hall of Fame. It is long overdue.