Former UNLV men' hoops coach Jerry Tarkanian dies at the age of 84
Everyday in Las Vegas, the nervous high rollers twitchily look on from around card tables as their livelihood hangs in limbo.
On the sidelines of UNLV’s basketball court for the last 19 seasons, the scene was not too different. Head basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian could be seen crouched on the sidelines with a towel stuffed in his mouth as he watched his Runnin’ Rebels go all in night after night.
This image of Tarkanian is iconic, but more historic are the achievements the late coach will leave behind at UNLV following his death on Wednesday at the age of 84.
With an astonishing career coaching record of 706-198, along with a national championship in 1990 and three more final four appearances, Tarkanian will go down as one of the greatest coaches in collegiate basketball history.
Tarkanian, who holds the fifth highest winning percentage all-time, was known for having an immediate impact when he was hired. He led three teams to 20-plus win seasons, and did so in his first season in each program.
But, Tarkanian wasn’t just a kickstart; he was also a pillar of continual success. His final four appearances, which span 15 seasons, were highlights in a career where 29 of his 31 seasons at the helm boasted 20 games or more.
Additionally his 1987 final four team set an NCAA record of 37 wins and his 1991 final four squad finished the regular season undefeated - an achievement that wouldn’t be matched until 2014 by the Wichita State Shockers.
A frequent critic of the NCAA, Tarkanian spent much of his life off the court embattled with the organization. Long Beach State, UNLV and Fresno State were all put under NCAA probation as a result of recruiting violations by Tarkanian. He would sue the NCAA twice, both cases reached a settlement out of court.
Tarkanian, who has battled health issues for the last couple of years, was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013. At the ceremony he struggled to speak a few words and relied on a walker for support.
Despite his history of questionable recruiting, there was an outpouring of sadness and remorse over his death by many high-profile members of the basketball community.
Tarkanian leaves behind an expansive legacy. But what will always stand out most, is the sweat pouring down his bald head onto the towel tightly wedged in his mouth as he anxiously waited to see if his Rebels would sink the final shot.