Basketball Coach Great Jerry “The Shark’ Tarkanian Dies at 84
Los Angeles Daily News
Jerry Tarkanian, a college basketball legend and pioneer of Long Beach State and UNLV basketball, passed away Wednesday, his family announced. He
Tarkanian left his imprint on college basketball in his 30-plus years of roaming the court as a head coach, turning Long Beach State from fledgling program to a bona fide regional power before building UNLV into a national power. Tarkanian, who also coached at Riverside City College, Pasadena City College and Redlands High School, led three programs to the NCAA Tournament, reaching the Final Four on four occasions and winning the 1990 NCAA championship with UNLV.
Tarkanian retired from coaching with Fresno State in 2002, finishing his career with a 761-202 record. His 761 victories — of which 509 came at UNLV — place him 11th on the all-time NCAA coaching list.
Tarkanian’s son Danny announced the news via his Twitter account.
“Coach Tark, my father, the greatest man I have ever known, passed today, to take his place in heaven,” Danny wrote. “I will miss him every day of my life.”
“He was a father figure to me,” said Sam Robinson, a former player for Tarkanian at Pasadena City College and his first recruit at Long Beach State, where he became the program’s first All-American. “He cared about his players on an off the court.”
In five years at Long Beach State, Tarkanian, plucked from the California junior college coaching ranks, led the 49ers to four straight Pacific Coast Athletic Association titles and four trips to the NCAA Tournaments — two ending in the Elite 8 to John Wooden’s UCLA teams.
Tarkanian was born Aug. 8, 1930, in Euclid, Ohio, to Armenian immigrants George and Haighouhie “Rose” Tarkanian. During his Hall of Fame acceptance speech in 2013, Tarkanian spoke to his Armenian roots, calling himself “the eldest son of an Armenian immigrant, whose mother fled her homeland on horseback with only the clothes on her back after her father and brother were beheaded by Turkish soldiers” to escape the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
After attending Pasadena High School, Tarkanian enrolled in Pasadena City College before transferring to Fresno State with a athletic scholarship in hand, where he played two seasons before graduating in 1955. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree, going on to earn a master’s in educational management from the University of Redlands.
Tarkanian got his start at the high school level, helping out with San Joaquin Memorial High School while still enrolled as Fresno State (eventually taking over as head coach, although unofficially).
Starting in 1956, Tarkanian jumped around as a head coach at four high schools — including Redlands High — before making his jump to the collegiate ranks at Riverside City College in 1962.
Tarkanian then moved to Pasadena City College, winning another state title with a 35-1 record. The coach’s ability attracted the attention of Long Beach State, which gave Tarkanian the reins to the program in 1968, but not before he finished with a 198-13 record and four junior college state titles.
At Long Beach State, Tarkanian took a program that never won more than 15 games or reached the postseason and ripped off five straight 20-plus-win seasons. All seven of the program’s NCAA Tournament wins came with Tarkanian at the helm, never losing a home game. His 49ers went 122-20 and 40-4 in the PCAA over five years.
While having made a mark every stop in his coaching career, Tarkanian will be remembered most for transforming UNLV into a powerhouse in a short amount of time. Tarkanian arrived in the desert in 1973, joining a school that was referred to as “Tumbleweed Tech.” They went 20-6 in his first season, and in 19 seasons the Runnin’ Rebels went 509-105.
In his 30 seasons of coaching Division I college basketball, Tarkanian had only two seasons when his team failed to win at least 20 games, averaging 25 wins a year.
While known for success on the court, Tarkanian also gained attention for his drama-filled battles with NCAA. Since his days at Long Beach State (the program was hit with nearly two dozen violations after Tarkanian left), the NCAA and Tarkanian have been at odds.
Tarkanian announced that the 1991-92 season would be his last, the Rebels going 26-2 that season.
But the man dubbed the “Shark” bit back. The head coach ended up suing the NCAA, winning a settlement of $2.5 million after claiming that the organization was unfairly targeting him and his career.