Jerry Tarkanian

The Shark talks about the Rebels’ period of invincibility, the great fall and politics


The orange basketball mailbox on Justice Lane marks former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian’s residence in Rancho Nevada Estates. He and wife Lois paid $24,000 for the comfortable, 4,300-square-foot home in June 1973, 25 years before the NCAA paid him $2.5 million in an out-of-court settlement. The 79-year-old Rebel tells me, via the guard at the gate, to just come on in. He’s lying back in bed, having just watched the first half of the Texas-Texas Tech game. (He organizes his days around the games on TV.) He gets up to greet me and gingerly walks past a dining-room table filled with orderly piles of paperwork and plops into a large brown leather chair in his living room. Therapy has helped him recover from a difficult 2009, in which he broke two ribs, fractured his shoulder and underwent spinal surgery. His voice is strained, but he’s eager to talk about the 1989-90 season, when UNLV won its lone national championship. He’s just as eager to see the Rebels play Colorado State in a few hours.

Does it ever get old talking about the glory days?

I enjoy it. The year after we won it all was the best I ever had in coaching. I used to worry about every game, but we were so good that year. I’d ask Tim Grgurich, my assistant, “Can we be this good?” We were just blowing everybody out. Tim agreed. You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing UNLV shirts. There was a time when our shirts surpassed Notre Dame as the most popular shirt. Notre Dame! Can you believe that?

Did you ever envision beating Duke in the 1990 title game by 30 points?

I never thought we’d beat Duke like we did. I never expected that. If we played Duke the next day, it would have been a tough game. Duke was a tough team. We just caught them on the right night.

What has Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said to you about that game?

He talks to me about it all the time. Very few people realize how our two teams mirrored each other. We played almost the same exact type of defense, with pressure and denying the front posts. They played more our style than anyone else in the country. He talks about how dominant we were and how athletic we were. But I’ve never heard him lose a ballgame and afterward not praise the other team. Mike’s a great person.

Does the way your UNLV chapter ended still sting?

No. I love the university. Every time I go to games, students are fabulous. They stand and cheer, clap. People in the community have always been great. I just appreciate their support.

Do you get a kick out of living on Justice Lane?

(Laughs.) I do. Lois and I talk about the irony.

What’s the best advice you ever got?

Clark Van Galder, who coached football at Fresno State, said never make an excuse after you lose a game. You’ll be a loser if you do. Never blame the officials after you lose a game. Win a game, then you can tell the officials what a lousy job they did. Lose a game, don’t say anything. I wanted so much to come out after a couple of those games those years, and I never did. I never could. And he said don’t tell people your problems. Half of them don’t want to hear it and the other half are glad you’re having those problems. That was so right.

Your wife and son are into politics, yet you are sour on that business.

Everything you do in politics is ripping the other guy, and I don’t like that at all. We never did that when we were coaching. As much as we had coaches we didn’t like, we never ripped them. Never did any negative recruiting. I don’t like all the negativity in politics. That’s what you have to do to win. You have to do it yourself if you want to win.

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