by Jerry Feitelberg
Legendary Basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian died Wednesday at the age of 84. Tarkanian entered the hospital Monday and his son Danny said "He fought and fought. Coach Tark, my father, the greatest man I have ever known, passed today, to take his place in heaven. I will miss him every day of my life."
Jerry Tarkanian was the second Hall of Fame coach to die in the last ten days. Dean Smith of North Carolina died last week. Tarkanian was a fantastically successful basketball coach for
over 40 years. He was not a great basketball player in his days at Fresno State but was a great leader. He had a great personality who had a great work ethic and enthusiasm for the game and was chosen as captain even though he was a backup guard. After graduation Jerry coached at the high school level before going on to coach Riverside City College from 1963 to 1964 where his team won three state titles and a record of 145-22. In 1966, he moved over to Pasadena City College and had a record of 67-4 while winning one state title.
Now, it was time to move on to Divison One college basketball. Jerry was hired to take over the moribund Long Beac State program. Long Beach had a losing record of 192-240 record under five coaches in the seventeen years prior to his arrival. Jerry turned the program into a winning one immediately. From 1968 to 1973 his record was 122-20 and the team won four conference titles in his five years there. Jerry moved on to the University of Nevada Las Vegas from 1973 to 1992 and he amassed a record of 509-105 and his team, the Running Rebels, won the NCAA championship in 1990. Jerry returned to has alma mater, Fresno State and coached there until his retirement in 2002. The Bulldogs reached the NCAA Tournament twice and had six straight 20-win seasons.
Jerry’s teams loved to play pressure defense and used the fast break to pulverize their opponents. Jerry was fun to watch while coaching as he had a habit of chewing on a wet towel during games.
Some other numbers of interest are the following. He had a winning percentage of .804 which is fourth best all-time. In addition, he had 778 career victories and tutored 42 players that were drafted by the NBA including 12 first-round selections.
While these numbers are tremendous, one has to ask -what kind of person was Jerry Tarkanian?
While he was a great coach and mentor, he was a compassionate man who believed that everyone in life deserved a second chance and he brought in a lot of young men that came from troubled backgrounds to play on his teams. Tarkanian wrote" My upbringing was why I related so well to kids from tough backgrounds or single-family homes. I was always at home with city kids. I understood what it was like to be raised by one parent, to grow up poor, and to have to move around and scrape to get things."
Jerry was approached by the Los Angeles Lakers to take over the helm in 1977, but he did not take the job. Jerry did take a job coaching the San Antonio Spurs in 1992, but his tenure there was short-lived as he was out after coaching just 20 games.
Jerry finished his career at Fresno Sate and was elected to the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2013. The honor was long overdue, but many people felt that it was his battles with the NCAA that cost him the chance to enter the Hall at an earlier date.
Tarkanian had a long and successful life and the world of basketball is in mourning today for one of it’s most colorful characters. Rest in Peace, Jerry.