Tarkanian, Jerry (1930—)

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Tarkanian, Jerry (1930—)

Jerry Tarkanian—ever so appropriately nicknamed "Tark the Shark"—is both one of the most talented and controversial college basketball coaches in the history of the sport. His nineteen-year tenure at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas began in 1973, and was highlighted by a quartet of appearances in the Final Four, a national championship in 1990, and an overall record of 509-105. Nonetheless, throughout his UNLV career, Tarkanian constantly was in conflict with the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the governing body of college sports. In the late 1970s, the NCAA placed the Runnin' Rebels' hoops program on two years' probation for recruiting violations. The school was directed to suspend its coach—an action that Tarkanian blocked with a court order. He also sued the NCAA, albeit unsuccessfully—although the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. And yet another clash between Tark and the NCAA ended up in the Supreme Court, in which the justices rejected the coach's attempt to resurrect a Nevada state law that had shielded Tarkanian and his UNLV associates, who had been charged with breaching NCAA regulations.

Two years after UNLV won the national championship in 1990, the NCAA commenced another major investigation of Tarkanian. This time, the coach resigned under pressure—and yet again sued the NCAA, accusing the organization of trying to run him out of college basketball. The suit was settled in 1998, just before it was set to go to trial. While admitting no liability, the NCAA paid Tarkanian $2.5 million. "They can never, ever, make up for all the pain and agony they caused me," Tarkanian observed. "All I can say is that for 25 years they beat the hell out of me." Tarkanian eventually signed on as the basketball coach of Fresno State, from which he had graduated in 5. However, the conflict surrounding him did not subside. In 1997, controversy again swirled on campus when it was revealed that the Bulldogs had recruited a convicted wife abuser, and two of his players were accused of assaulting their girlfriends. The following year, two players were jailed on charges of grand theft and assault with a deadly weapon. Nonetheless, Jerry Tarkanian remains a seminal figure in the sport of college basketball, where his unconventional style combined with his phenomenal success, have left a deep and lasting impact on the game.

—Rob Edelman

Further Reading:

Harp, Richard, and Joseph McCullough. Tarkanian: Countdown of a Rebel. New York, Leisure Press, 1984.

Valenti, John, with Ron Naclerio. Swee'pea and Other Playground Legends: Tales of Drugs, Violence, and Basketball. New York, M. Kesend, 1990.

Yaeger, Don. Shark Attack: Jerry Tarkanian and His Battle With the NCAA and UNLV. New York, Harper Collins, 1992.