Jerry Tarkanian won more than 700 games during his career, which is one of many reasons why he was finally elected to the Hall of Fame last week. He began his Division 1 career at Long Beach State, where he never lost more than five games in a season during each of his five years on campus. After becoming head coach at UNLV in 1973, he proceeded to win over 500 games and make it to the Final 4 on four different occasions over the next two decades. He finished up his coaching career with 7\seven straight postseason appearances at Fresno State before retiring in 2002. Jon Teitel got to speak to Coach Tarkanian about his remarkable career, and we congratulate him on this fantastic honor!
In 1968 you became head coach at Long Beach State, where you were one of the first coaches to use three black starters and pioneered the use of junior college players. How big a deal was it to violate the unwritten racial rules at the time, and how important were JC players to your own success? I never looked at what color my players were, that was never a factor. I was a JC guy myself, having spent seven years as a JC coach and winning four straight California state titles.
What are your memories of the 1972 NCAA tourney (Bill Walton had 19 points, 11 rebounds in a win by eventual champion UCLA)? The UCLA game I remember the best was actually the year before, we led them for the whole game before a heartbreaking loss, maybe the worst of my career. Every call went against us and we were never really into the game.
What are your memories of the 1976 NCAA tourney as head coach at UNLV (Herman Harris had 31 points, 9 rebounds and nine assists in a five-points OT win by Arizona)? That was the first year the school had ever been to the tourney. We led most of the game and played great.
What are your memories of the 1977 NCAA tourney (Mike O’Koren scored 31 points [14-19 FG] in a one-point win by eventual national runner-up North Carolina)? That was another heartbreaking loss, as we were up by double-digits in the second half. Grant Gondrezick broke Larry Moffett’s nose after pulling down a rebound, and by the time Moffett came back a few minutes later we had lost our lead.
What are your memories of the 1983 NCAA tourney (Thurl Bailey scored 25 points and put back his own missed shot with three seconds left to clinch a one-point win by eventual champion NC State)? We were #1 in the country for the first time in school history after not being picked in the top-20 of any polls. Jimmy Valvano was one of my closest friends, so that was a little consolation. My son was our point guard and it was his final game, which hurt too.
Kevin Gamble missed a three-point shot in the final seconds of a three-point win over Iowa in the 1987 NCAA tourney. Did you think the shot was going in, and how did your team come back from an 18-point deficit in the second half? We took the lead with about nine minutes left and then it was nip and tuck the rest of the way. It was one of the few times in my career that I got tricky with our game plan, as we usually just tried to play harder than everybody else. The Hawkeyes were the best rebounding team in the country and we did not have a lot of size besides Armon Gilliam. I came in at halftime and apologized to the team because my strategy had backfired on us, and we went out and did not switch on any screens in the 2nd half and played aggressively.
Freddie Banks scored 38 points (including a Final Four-record 10 three-pointers) and Mark Wade set a Final Four record with 18 assists in a four-point loss to eventual champion Indiana. How did you lose that game despite such record-setting performances? The Hoosiers played well. We were down by two points in the final minute and Gerald Paddio’s three point shot went in-and-out.
What are your memories of the 1989 NCAA tourney (Anderson Hunt bumped Kenny Lofton to the floor before making a three point shot with four seconds left in a one-point win over Arizona)? Hunt had the ball about 20 feet out and made a spin move. It was a close call, but I thought that the no-call was a good call. It was a great win because the Wildcats were ranked ahead of us that year.
Bo Kimble had 42 points, 11 rebound in a 30-point loss by Loyola Marymount in the 1990 NCAA tourney. What was it like to play against the Lions during their inspirational run in the tourney after Hank Gathers’ death? We beat them earlier in the year in the preseason NIT. I told my wife the night before the game that we were going to kill them, which I rarely did. She told me not to say that because it might jinx us, but I knew that we were going to drive right through their press. Larry Johnson would inbound the ball to David Butler, get it to Greg Anthony going down the middle, and we got layup after layup. Alabama played the Lions before we did and their coach Wimp Sanderson did not want to run with them, so he would break the press and then hold the ball up.
Tourney MOP Hunt scored 29 points (12-16 FG) in a 30-point win over Duke to clinch the title and set a record for most points scored the largest margin of victory in a championship game. What did it mean to you to win the title, and what was the reaction like when you got back to campus? The town went absolutely nuts. We had 16,000 people watching the game on the video screen in our gym. The Tropicana Hotel actually stopped the gambling to let everyone watch the game on their TV screens!
What are your memories of the 1991 NCAA tourney (Hunt missed a three-point shot at the buzzer in a two-point loss to Duke that snapped your 45-game winning streak)? Duke played great. We had a five-point lead with a few minutes left before Anthony got called for a charge and fouled out. After we shifted to a zone defense Hurley made a 25-footer to cut our lead to two points. I can think of so many reasons why we should have won: it might have been the best college basketball team I have ever seen. If we had won back-to-back titles then we might have been considered the best ever.
UNLV president Robert Maxson forced you to resign in 1992 after the Las Vegas Review-Journal published a picture of three of your players in a hot tub with infamous gambler Richard Perry. What was your reaction when you saw the photo, and did you feel that you had done anything wrong? I absolutely do not feel that I did anything wrong. Perry had coached Moses Scurry in AAU ball and said he was in the commodities business, so I had no idea that he was anything else. When I read a story that Perry was involved in the Boston College point-shaving situation in the 1970s, I told my team to stay away from him. It is ludicrous to think that we were throwing games, we won most of our games by double-digits!
In 1992 you became coach of the San Antonio Spurs but were fired after only 20 games, and later received a $1.3 million settlement which you used to fund your lawsuit against the NCAA. What was the biggest difference between coaching in college vs. coaching in the NBA? The difference is practice. In the NBA you are playing every other day so you have to keep the practices light. One of David Robinson’s favorite sayings was, “Coach, do not forget that we play tomorrow!” We had long practices in college but in the NBA the key was to give them some rest in between games. In college our whole team would eat meals together on road trips, but in the NBA I would not see my players much outside of practice and games.
You sued the NCAA in 1992 claiming that it had harassed you for over two decades, and while the NCAA did not admit any harassment they settled with you out of court in 1998 for $2.5 million (the largest settlement in NCAA history). Why did the NCAA target you, and how satisfying was the settlement? It was great to get the settlement, but I think that we could have received a lot more if we had held out a little longer. I just wanted to get it over with. My attorney took about $700,000 and my wife and I split the rest.
After you became coach at your alma mater of Fresno State, Tremaine Fowlkes had 27 points and 10 rebounds and made a three-point shot at the buzzer in a three point win over Memphis in the 1998 NIT: do you think that Fowlkes got the shot off before the buzzer sounded? It was very close so I think that we got very lucky that it went in our favor.
Anthony Carter missed a fade-away at the buzzer in a two point win over Hawaii, how chaotic did it get after Chris Herren danced on the scorers’ table and a fan threw a beer at his head? We were playing in Honolulu and their fans really thought they were going to win. Herren played great that night.
Quincy Lewis scored 19 points including a three-point shot with five seconds left in regulation en route to a two-point OT win by eventual champion Minnesota. Did you feel cheated when the Gophers later had to forfeit their entire season due to an academic fraud scandal? No: I just felt bad that we lost.
You are one of the winningest coaches in college basketball history and you currently run a basketball academy in Las Vegas. What made you such a great coach, and what makes your program different from other basketball camps? My two sons are the ones who run the academy: I am retired now. I do not know what made me a great coach, but I loved it.
Your son Danny was an Academic All-American player for you at UNLV and your granddaughter Dannielle currently plays basketball at Northwestern: who is the best athlete in the family, and how proud are you of all their success? I am proud of all of them.