Jerry Tarkanian was a great coach and a complicated person, and if his passing did anything, it gave the sports media a chance to expound on his legacy and the huge imprint he left on college basketball.
Dan Wetzel of Yahoo.com packs a goldmine of recruiting stories into his retrospective, and says that Tark accomplished something at UNLV that may never be seen again:
Mostly though he was an entertainer, a showman in a showbiz town. His teams played up-tempo. They pressed all game. They reveled in dunks and alley-oops. One season they averaged 110.5 points a game, and that was pre-shot clock.
It was like nothing that exists in college basketball these days. Nothing even comes close to it. UNLV was about big fun and big personalities, packing Gucci Row with celebrities as Tark sat nervously sucking on a towel, an old habit he could never break.
At their best they were the best, building a powerhouse a long way from the traditional college towns. This was a city team, a blue-collar team. In his 19 seasons UNLV won 30 NCAA tournament games. In the 22 since he left, it’s won three.
For all the critics who went all puritanical and cursed Tark’s band of Rebels while cheering humorless coaches and 46-45 final scores as “the right way to play” … hey, to each his own … but they sure missed out on the fun.
Also at Yahoo.com, Adrian Wojnarowski has a measured take on Tark’s legacy. Wojnarowski shares some memories from covering Tark at Fresno State and does a good job of portraying the man for who he was—determined, defiant and dedicated to enjoying success:
All the winning, all the money, all the wild times, and give Tark this: He never pretended the way so many of his peers did, never tried too hard to sell you on the sanctity of his mission. College coaching had turned into an unapologetic grab for glory and money and power, and Tark chased it all, chased it with two fists and no apologies.
At ESPN.com, Andy Katz writes that Tark pushed his players hard on the practice court, but that what ultimately brought his teams together was the coach’s ability to cultivate different personalities:
The freedom of expression that he allowed was celebrated by the players and made him a magnet for some of the top talents in the country. Sure, some were high-maintenance, but few other coaches would be able to deal with the various egos and put together a functioning team.
Las Vegas was also hardly the city it is today, an international destination where the adult Disney World-like atmosphere dominates the landscape. Tark made the Runnin’ Rebels a Vegas institution.
Dana O’Neil hits all the familiar notes with his ESPN.com obit, in particular focusing on Tarkanian’s penchant for trailblazing:
When no one recruited junior college players, he made recruiting junior college players OK. When no one thought a school in the middle of the desert could be popular, Tarkanian turned UNLV into a desert-hot ticket, complete with his own Gucci row.
But along with the Runnin’ at UNLV, Tarkanian put the Rebel in the school nickname. And that is where the legacy becomes complicated.
To some he is a hero, a man who fought the establishment and won. To others, he is a cheater, a man who tried to beat the establishment and lost.
In reality, he was all of that.
And finally, the Fresno Bee did a good job with their timeline of Tarkanian’s career, and they also rounded up some classic Tark quotes. I’ll leave you with this one, which, in classic Tark fashion, un-stuffs some shirts, tells it like it is and hits you with some real wisdom at the end:
“Coaches I know go out after a clinic, drinking and partying and raising hell. But if one of their kids did anything, then they feel like they’ve got to get rid of them. They’ll say, ‘He’s a bum, get rid of him.’ What the hell, they did that themselves. There is no ideal world. It has to be a real world.”
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