It was such a fitting tribute for a Las Vegas icon, even Frank Sinatra was there.
Yes, he was an impersonator, but the rest of Sunday afternoon’s memorial service was authentic, as UNLV fans, former players and family gathered inside the Thomas & Mack Center to honor legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian.
“Coach was the type of individual that demanded excellence,” said Sam Knight, a former player for Tarkanian at Riverside Community College.
The Hall-of-Fame coach, who died at 84 years old on Feb. 11, has been honored in a multitude of ways over the last couple of weeks. Fresno State and Long Beach State joined with UNLV with ‘Tark’ patches and pre-game ceremonies.
Fresno State honored Tarkanian on Saturday before its game against New Mexico. Tarkanian’s family flew into Las Vegas on Sunday for a celebration of the coach who brought the lone national championship to UNLV.
Former UNLV quarterback and current ESPN personality Kenny Mayne was the emcee for the memorial.
“It wasn’t just about coming to Vegas to play football,” Mayne said. “I was like, ‘That’s the school that has Tarkanian!’ He was Sinatra—the draw at UNLV.”
Many of Tarkanian’s former players—ranging from his coaching days at the community college to his final days at Fresno State—spoke about their legendary coach.
There was also a video package of many current college basketball coaches, with luminaries such as John Calipari, Tom Thibodeau and Mike Krzyzewski sending their wishes.
One touching Tark story came from Sam Robinson, who played for Tarkanian at Pasadena Community College then followed him to Long Beach State. His brother Jackie Robinson also played from 1973-77 at UNLV. When their mother died, Tarkanian and his family not only attended the funeral, but paid for it as well.
“That just goes to show he was more than just a coach,” Robinson said. “He was a father figure.”
When current UNLV head coach Dave Rice took the podium to speak to the nearly 4,000 people in attendance, he held a proclamation signed by Gov. Brian Sandoval, declaring March 1 as “Jerry Tarkanian Day.”
It was the culmination to a Hall of Fame career that spanned five decades, produced more than 700 wins and brought UNLV its only national championship.
“Tarkanian,” said former UNLV big man Moses Scurry, “is a name I’ll never forget.”
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