Jerry Tarkanian, the Hall of Fame former coach of the University of Nevada–Las Vegas, died on Wednesday at the age of 84.
Tarkanian was famous for his high-octane UNLV offenses, as well as for his years of feuding with the NCAA.
His 729–201 record (.784 win percentage) over the course of 31 seasons with UNLV, Fresno State, and Long Beach State was the seventh-best ever. Tarkanian’s UNLV team made four appearances at the final fours, and its 103–73 win over Duke in the 1990 national title match still stands as the largest margin of victory ever in an NCAA final. The Las Vegas Sun called the win “the brightest moment in Las Vegas sports history,” noting that the city did not have a professional team, and Tarkanian “one of Las Vegas’ legendary figures.”
That UNLV team featured future NBA stars Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, and Greg Anthony and nearly finished the following year undefeated before losing to Duke in the semifinals. But Tarkanian got into trouble after that 1991 season when three of his players were seen to have been photographed in a hot tub with a convicted match fixer, and he resigned from UNLV one year later.
The NCAA tried to suspend Tarkanian and vacate a number of his wins for alleged recruiting violations, but he sued and won a $2.5 million settlement in 1998.
After being forced out of UNLV, Tarkanian had a very brief spell coaching the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA and went on to coach at Fresno State before retiring in 2002.
“Tark the Shark” was also famous for his sideline towel-chewing escapades, as seen in this insanely campy tribute video that seems to come directly from Doc Brown’s time machine.
As ESPN reported, “The towel chewing, Tarkanian would later say, was something he started doing during long practices when he could not stop to go to a drinking fountain.”