The Day the Shark Swam In

As legendary UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian recovers from his recent heart attack, we mark the 39th anniversary of his hiring by UNLV on March 23, 1973. The CX-310-110 following is an excerpt from Greg Blake Miller’s award-winning 2010 Vegas Seven feature story, “The Rebel Alliance.”

In 1973, Jerry Tarkanian arrived in Las Vegas with a formidable assignment: put a 16-year-old university on the map. And while you’re at it, give a 68-year-old tourist town a tradition of its own. Tarkanian had taken less than five years to turn Long Beach State into a national power, and Donald Baepler, UNLV’s president at the time, consciously sought him out so he could do the same thing in Las Vegas. “In the early ’70s, if I said that I was from UNLV at various meetings, people would always ask, ‘Where?’” Baepler told The New York Times in 1989. “We realized that we could use the athletic team to get the kind of attention that helps the academic side.” For Tarkanian, it was a CX-310-200 chance for a fresh start. He had already bumped heads with the NCAA in Long Beach and had written editorials denouncing the organization’s tactics. Meanwhile, coaching at Long Beach meant being content to work in the shadow of both John Wooden’s legendary UCLA squads and the powerhouse USC teams of the early 1970s. Tarkanian, who had come of age in the small-but-fast-growing town of Fresno, had looked at Las Vegas and seen a place he could make his own.

“He was so excited the first night we drove in,” Lois Tarkanian told me in a 2007 interview. “We were in the car and we were going down the Strip. It was a warm night and there was a little breeze, and we’d pass by and somebody would say, ‘Hey, Tark!’ and he’d turn to me and say, ‘See, this is just like dragging the main in Fresno.’ When I didn’t want to come here I said, ‘It’s a gambling city.’ He said, ‘No. It’s a college city. It’s a college town, Lois.’”

Read the full story, The Rebel Alliance.

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