Today marks two years since the passing of Jerry Tarkanian. He is a legendary basketball coach who was affectionately known as Tark the Shark. He started with high schools and junior colleges. Then he went to coach Long Beach State for six years. His big years (at least in my opinion) came from 1973-1992 at UNLV. With the Runnin’ Rebels he won the NCAA National Championship in 1990. Ultimately he took the Runnin’ Rebels to the Final Four four times and is arguably the best coach ever at UNLV.
The court at the Thomas and Mack, where the Runnin’ Rebels play, was renamed Jerry Tarkanian Court in 2005. He not only had a lasting impact at UNLV, but he truly paved the way for many mid-major schools to have success. He has also unified the city of Las Vegas. With no major sports team there (I don’t want the Raiders there!), the only thing to really unite people is UNLV. Being a native, I have truly witnessed this, but not nearly to the way it must have felt when Tark was there. The whole city rallies around the Runnin’ Rebels. They’re our guys. Even with how great he was, there was controversy that surrounded him during his time in the NCAA, but many say that it was unnecessary. Unfortunately, his wonderful career is marred by those allegations, but Tark was much more than that. He was a husband. He was a father. He was a coach.
Tark took in players who seemed like they may be taking the wrong path in life. He not only created good basketball teams, but he created good men. They all still talk about him to this day. They really loved him. One of his signature moves is chewing on his towel. Apparently, he started it when he was coaching a high school team and he never stopped. He had one wet and one dry. This was to help him stay hydrated and prevent dry mouth during games. One of the most iconic pictures ever is Jerry and his towel. When he passed away, he was honored and remembered at the first home game played only seven days later. Of course, there was an empty chair from the 1990 NCAA National Championship, but it wasn’t quite empty. Right on top, neatly folded, was a white towel. It was just the way he asked for it.
Tark was a special man and I know he is missed every day by those who loved him. He brought energy, life, and unity to a city that didn’t have that before. I’ll never forget seeing him sitting in his courtside seat when I would go to games. It was a first priority of mine to look for him when I was there. It was just amazing to see him and to think of all the great things he had accomplished in his life. Jerry is missed by many and I know one day the Runnin’ Rebels will be back in the NCAA National Championship game!