Shark Tales

Reactions to the death of Jerry Tarkanian


Tarkanian’s crowning moment: Celebrating the 1990 national championship with his players, including future UNLV coach Dave Rice (30). | Photo courtesy UNLV Athletics

“He had an uncanny ability to take star players and mold them into cohesive and selfless teams. That is a testament to how well he related to his players. They adored him. As coaches, we admired him as well. His teams were a joy to watch, unless you were playing against one of them. He taught pressure man-to-man defense as well as anyone has ever done. … When I think of the great coaches, but also the great defensive coaches in the history of the game, I think of Jerry.” – Mike Krzyzewski, Duke and U.S. national team coach

“He was well-known and was able to recruit kids pretty much all over when he was at UNLV because of their success and the fact that they were sold out all the time. I was happy to see that they named the court after him, because there were two types of fans: People who didn’t like having him coach at UNLV and a lot more people who did like having him.” – Lute Olson, former Arizona coach

“He was one of the few coaches who were successful playing more than one style. At Long Beach he was low possession, walk it up the floor, zone defense, and at UNLV it was the Runnin’ Rebs. Not many coaches can change styles that dramatically.” – Roy Williams, North Carolina coach

“People forget that when he went to UNLV, no one knew who UNLV was. And he created that. I thought it was a shame how long they made him wait to get into the Hall of Fame. I never thought that was right or just. I had a problem with that, and I actually voiced it way back. He fought the NCAA when no one else would. He could have taken his fine, but he said: ‘No, I’m not. I’m going to fight you.’ And I just find it interesting now that the things he was fighting about are basically what we’ve all found out—he was right. So I hope he passed away knowing that he had a just cause for everyone. I’m a big fan.” – Doc Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers coach

“If you didn’t have it together offensively, and you didn’t have some really good guards, you wanted no part of playing those guys. He was a great teacher of the game.” – P.J. Carlesimo, former Seton Hall coach whose team beat UNLV in the Elite Eight in 1989, then lost to the Rebels in the same round two years later

“Every time I saw Jerry Tarkanian, at the end he’d say, ‘You guys are unbelievable.’ His team was 32-2 and we were like 24-10. He would say, ‘I can’t believe you do that.’ He would do that almost every time I’d see him. People are different than their personas that the media cultivates. He’s one of the humblest, nicest guys and one of the best coaches ever. I don’t think people know that he was a great guy and he was a great basketball coach.”– Jim Boeheim, Syracuse coach

“Coach Tarkanian was one of the most charismatic and talented coaches of his era. He was a great defensive specialist whose teams were always well-prepared. But most importantly, he always cared about his student-athletes. Jerry will be sorely missed.” – Lou Carnesecca, former St. John’s coach

“We had this perception of him—this guy with droopy eyes and a bald head, wearing a short-sleeved shirt and sucking on a towel—but that was society’s perception of him. Not the great communicator, terrific coach, kind person and coach’s coach who saw the best in people. RIP, Jerry Tarkanian. You might have been one of the most misunderstood coaches in the history of college basketball.” – Seth Greenberg, former Long Beach State and Virginia Tech coach, and current ESPN analyst

“RIP Coach … You inspired many. You believed in kids that the world discarded. The hood will never forget you.” – Chris Webber, former NBA and University of Michigan star, and current TNT analyst

“RIP Jerry Tarkanian. Great coach, really good man. A true Hall of Famer.” – Jay Bilas, former Duke player and current ESPN analyst

“Heaven is fielding an unbelievable coaching roster. RIP Coach Jerry Tarkanian, one of the best.” – Reggie Miller, Hall of Fame basketball player and current TNT analyst

“Tark was a blue-collar guy, who cared about blue-collar people in a sense. He’s famous for his accomplishments on the court, but I think what he’s done for so many off the court needs to be talked about, too. … He was much more than a coach in my life. And especially at times when I needed him most, he was always there.” – Chris Herren, former player for Tarkanian at Fresno State and a recovering addict who often credits Tarkanian for helping to turn his life around

“Jerry Tarkanian was the ultimate lovable rogue. Unapologetic and self-effacing at the same time. RIP Tark the Shark. There will never be another like you.” – Seth Davis, longtime college basketball journalist and commentator

“Tark was a fighter. He challenged the establishment of college sports, sparing no expense to save his reputation and legacy.” – Andy Katz, ESPN college basketball writer

“No one in Nevada history has been able to entertain crowds like Jerry Tarkanian and his legendary Runnin’ Rebels; this includes renowned Vegas entertainers like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Cher and Celine Dion. We know the stories of Jerry on the court; they are renowned. But his work off the court has been just as important. Jerry taught young college athletes to be better people.” – Harry Reid, U.S. senator, D-Nev.

“Although Coach Tarkanian hasn’t nervously chewed on a towel in the ‘Shark Tank’ for more than two decades, he will remain a beloved figure in the Silver State and one the Nevada family will never forget. Undoubtedly, his influence in the world of basketball will be felt for years to come.” – Dean Heller, U.S. senator, R-Nev.

“Coach Tarkanian will be forever memorialized by sports fans across the nation as an iconic figure who changed the sport. Nevadans will remember him as a man who brought fame to our young UNLV, and a wonderful husband, father and grandfather.” – Brian Sandoval, Nevada governor

“Jerry’s passing is the end of an era. Those of us who lived through the heyday of the Runnin’ Rebels will always look back fondly on that time. He and his Runnin’ Rebels created such great excitement and sense of community here. He lifted our spirits and brought us together. … Las Vegas will always be grateful for the impact Jerry had on our lives.” – Steve Sisolak, Clark County commissioner

“He instilled in me a confidence and commitment to doing what I believe is right for all people I am around. He will always be a part of UNLV, and our university is a better institution because of that.” – Dave Rice, former UNLV player and current Rebels head coach

“As a player it’s one thing, but as I’ve gotten older and started coaching, the relationship changed. I remember sitting in a restaurant talking to him and going through a stack of 100 napkins, doing plays and showing me different things on the napkins.” – Reggie Theus, former UNLV player and current Cal State
Northridge coach

“Coach Tarkanian meant a lot to me as a father, mentor and coach. He always gave a chance to inner-city kids, the so-called ‘bad kids.’ He gave a lot of folks a chance, and he stuck to that. He was loyal to his players, and he was always there for me. Now I’m using the same philosophy with my high school team; we run and gun, pressure defense, fast break. I learned all those things from him. I’m devastated that he’s gone.” – Freddie Banks, former UNLV player and current Canyon Springs High School coach

“He is the father of basketball here in Southern Nevada. Had it not been for him and his creation of Runnin’ Rebels basketball, where would UNLV be today? It’s kind of mind-boggling, really. The things he believed in were hard work and loyalty, and that’s because of the way he grew up. He brought that to the basketball program here and really made something special.” – Dick Calvert, longtime UNLV public-address announcer

“Coach Tarkanian lived his life in the pursuit of excellence on the basketball court. It was the central force in his life. He was totally committed to that, and his teams reflected that commitment. The style he played had a lot to do with why he is so beloved in this city. He was a gambling coach, he played pressure on both ends of the floor, and his teams ran the floor. Coach was a blue-collar guy; he picked up his lunch pail and got to work, and his teams were committed to that. I think that’s why Las Vegas showed so much love for him.” – Brad Rothermel, former UNLV athletic director

“He was everything to this city. The fans here are fickle—they’re with you, win or tie—but he won them over. He brought in the players and made a winning team and sold out every game, to the point that it was the hardest ticket to get in this town. He was a genius when it came to basketball.” – Leon Symanski, former UNLV player

“I hope people understand that Jerry Tarkanian gave young black males a chance to better themselves and the lives of their families when no one else would. The way Coach talked to me, he spoke my language. I needed that type of voice in my life. Let’s face it, we had guys like myself, Anderson Hunt and Moses Scurry who weren’t going to play at Duke. But we had the fortitude and tenacity to want to work and get better. And we had Tark putting his foot in our ass to set us straight. … You’ll hear guys talk all the time about coaches being a father figure. Well, I’m 45 years old and I’ve never met my father. I consider Jerry Tarkanian my father.” – Larry Johnson, former UNLV and NBA star