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Jerry Tarkanian (born August 8, 1930), also known as "Tark the Shark", is an Armenian-American former college basketball coach known for colorful behavior, including habitually chewing on a towel during games, and for his public criticisms of and clashes with the NCAA. He was head coach at three different Division I schools, each of which was subsequently penalized by the NCAA.

With a 990-228 career coaching record (81.3%) across all college divisions, Tarkanian currently has more collegiate wins than almost any men's coach in history (Gene Bess has over 1000 wins at the community college level). He is also one of few college coaches to lead three different schools to 20-win seasons. He accomplished this task at each school in his first year. However, he has not been elected to the Basketball Hall of Famemarker due primarily to the NCAA penalties.


Early life

Tarkanian, the son of Armenianmarker immigrants, was born in Euclid, Ohiomarker, United States, and attended Pasadena City Collegemarker in California. He later transferred to Fresno Statemarker where he played basketball for the Bulldogs in 1954 and 1955. He graduated in 1955. Later, he earned a master's degree in educational management from the University of Redlandsmarker.

Early coaching career

He began coaching high school basketball in California in 1956, and moved to college ball at Riverside City College from 1961-66 and Pasadena City Collegemarker from 1966-68. His teams won three California junior college championships.

Long Beach State and UNLV

Tarkanian moved to Division I basketball as coach at Long Beach Statemarker from 1968-1973, where "the Shark" was among the first coaches to use more than 3 black starters, violating an unwritten rule at the time, and pioneered the use of Junior College athletes. Long Beach State soon became a regional power, although they were no match for the vaunted UCLA Bruins dynasty. However, after Tark left for Las Vegas, the NCAA would go after Long Beach State.

Tarkanian achieved much success at the University of Nevada, Las Vegasmarker, coaching the Runnin' Rebels from 1973-1992 where his teams were known for remarkable defense and an up-tempo style. In fact, it was Tarkanian's idea to call the team the "Runnin' Rebels."

He took his UNLV teams to four Final Fours where he created and ran the amoeba defense. In the first, in 1977 (only seven years after the program joined Division I), the Rebels lost to North Carolina in the semifinals. Ten years later, UNLV lost to Bob Knight's eventual national champion Indiana Hoosiers. Finally, in the 1990 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament Tarkanian led UNLV to the championship, prevailing 103-73 against Duke while setting a record for margin of victory in a championship game. The following year Coach Tarkanian's undefeated Rebels met Duke again in the semifinals and lost 79-77.

Tarkanian had been under more or less constant scrutiny from the NCAA for most of his career (see below), but managed to weather the pressure until he signed Lloyd Daniels, a talented but troubled shooting guard from New York City. In 1987--just months before he was due to come to campus--Daniels was caught buying crack cocaine from an undercover policeman. While Tarkanian had been known for taking in troubled players, this was too much even for him, and he announced shortly afterward that Daniels would never play for UNLV. Not long after Daniels' arrest, it emerged he'd been led to UNLV by Richard Perry, a prominent gambler who had been convicted twice for sports bribery and was suspected of ties to the Mafia.

Perry's involvement triggered yet another NCAA investigation, which ultimately resulted in the NCAA banning the Rebels from the 1991 NCAA Tournament only months after they won the title. However, the NCAA later agreed to a compromise which allowed UNLV to defend its title, but would see the Rebels banned from the 1992 tourney. Only a few months after UNLV's 1991 loss to Duke, three of Tarkanian's players were seen in a hot tub with Perry--some years after Tarkanian claimed he'd warned off his players for contact with him. School president Robert Maxson had seen enough, and forced Tarkanian to announce he would resign at the end of the 1991-92 season.

NBA and return to college

Tarkanian was offered the Los Angeles Lakers head coaching job in 1977, but declined, continuing to coach college basketball. Tarkanian was signed to coach the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA not long after leaving UNLV. However, he disagreed with Spurs owner Red McCombs over the need for experience at point guard. The Spurs had lost Rod Strickland to free agency in the offseason (he signed with Portland), leaving the Spurs without a point guard with NBA experience. Tarkanian felt that the Spurs wouldn't be competitive without an experienced point guard, but McCombs disagreed. As a result, Tarkanian was fired after only 20 games with a 9-11 record. He received a $1.3 million settlement, which he used to fund a lawsuit against the NCAA.

He returned to college coaching at alma mater Fresno State from 1995-2002 and led them to six consecutive 20 win seasons. He retired from coaching in 2002 with 778 career Division I wins. Following his retirement, Fresno State was placed on probation by the NCAA for violations committed by its men's basketball team under Tarkanian's watch.

Tarkanian and the NCAA

Tarkanian spent most of his career as a Division I coach in a battle with the NCAA. After he left Long Beach State, its basketball program was slapped with probation for recruiting violations which occurred under his watch.

Just months before the 1976-77 season, the NCAA placed UNLV on two years' probation for "questionable practices." Although the alleged violations dated back to 1971--before Tarkanian became coach--the NCAA pressured UNLV into suspending Tarkanian as coach for two years. Tarkanian sued, claiming the suspension violated his right to due process. In September 1977, a Nevada judge issued an injunction which reinstated Tarkanian as coach. The case eventually made it all the way to the Supreme Court of the United Statesmarker, which ruled in 1988 that while the NCAA had the right to discipline its member schools, but required that due process be followed--effectively upholding the original 1977 injunction.

In the decade between the original suspension and the Supreme Court ruling, it was revealed that the NCAA's enforcement process was stacked heavily in the NCAA's favor--so heavily, in fact, that it created a perception that there was no due process. The enforcement staff was allowed to build cases on hearsay, and shared few of their findings with the targeted school. The resulting negative publicity led the NCAA to institute a clearer separation between the enforcement staff and the infractions committee, as well as a system for appeals. Also, hearsay evidence was no longer admissible in infractions cases.

After being fired from the Spurs, Tarkanian sued the NCAA, claiming it had harassed him for over two decades. The harassment, Tarkanian claimed, started when he wrote a newspaper column alleging that the NCAA was more willing to punish less-prominent schools than big-name schools. Although the NCAA did not admit harassing Tarkanian, it settled out of court in 1998, paying him $2.5 million.

Other biographical details

His colorful autobiography, "Runnin' Rebel: Shark Tales of "Extra Benefits", Frank Sinatra and Winning it All" was released in October 2005 and was a major national seller.

Jerry Tarkanian is married to Las Vegasmarker city councilwoman Lois Tarkanian. They have four children and ten grandchildren. One of their sons, Danny Tarkanian, was an All-American college basketball player while playing for Jerry Tarkanian at UNLV; he won the Republican Party's nomination for secretary of state during the Nevada primary on August 15, 2006 but lost in the general election. Danny is currently seeking the United States Senate seat held by Harry Reid.

Tarkanian is a good friend of college basketball coach Bob Knight. Tarkanian and Knight matched wits in the national semifinals of the 1987 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament in New Orleansmarker, with Knight's Indiana Hoosiers defeating UNLV 97-93.

He also started a basketball school in Las Vegas, named The Tarkanian Basketball Academy.

Head Coaching Record

See also


  2. Timeline of Tarkanian's career through 1995 from Sports Illustrated
  3. Farrey, Tom. Tark helped take bite out of NCAA investigation. ESPN, 2002-11-29.

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