During my time as sports director at KVBC Channel 3 (now KSNV), Jerry Tarkanian’s Rebels were almost always the lead story—in good times, bad times and even during the off-season.
In 1990, I went on the 6 o’clock news the night after UNLV had clobbered Utah State. The game wasn’t the story, though. Instead, it was an incident that made national news. Moses Scurry, a rugged and emotional forward, had been ruled ineligible for the game by the NCAA and was on the end of the bench in dress clothes when a fight broke out during the game. Scurry made his way onto the court and punched Aggies’ head coach Kohn Smith. Yes, he actually punched a coach.
I wrote a three-minute commentary ripping Tark and the program’s chaotic and envelope-pushing reputation. In Las Vegas at that time, criticizing Tark was tantamount to treason.
When my sportscast was over, a news manager rushed into the studio and as the door flung open, I could hear the phone lines ringing off the hook.
“That was fantastic,” one of my bosses said. “But I wouldn’t leave your house for several days,” he laughed.
Word of my commentary quickly got to Tark, and a few days later, he called me into his office after a practice. Expecting the worst, what transpired was actually one of his most endearing moments.
“You were really hard on me and Moses, Colin. I mean, really hard. I didn’t see it, but everyone has been telling me what you said. It sounds really unfair. He’s just a kid.” I quickly interrupted Tark and defended myself.
“Jerry, if I don’t give an honest opinion, what credibility do I have? I love Moses, but he shouldn’t have even been allowed on the bench. I can’t take it easy on you or your program, or I will have zero credibility. I have to do my job. That’s all I’m doing.”
Tark paused and instead of firing back, he said, almost apologetically, “Yeah, you do have to do your job. I get that. I didn’t even see it, but I heard you really ripped us.” He smirked, “All the fans told me I had to yell at you, but you do have a job to do. Fans get a little crazy.”
And that was it. The legendary coach listened to the twenty-something sportscaster. No yelling. No defiant railing. He may have even asked how things were going for me afterward. Maybe he did or didn’t, but I like to remember that he did.
People thought Tark and I had an adversarial relationship, but we really didn’t, save a few disagreements. He was complex like all interesting people are.
Fifteen years later on the campus of Penn State, I was hosting a radio remote for ESPN when two young girls came up to me and introduced themselves as Jerry’s nieces.
“Our uncle Jerry says to say ‘Hi’ and hopes you are doing well,” they said.
He didn’t have to do that, just like he didn’t have to patiently listen to me, while upset, years earlier.
That moment is how I like to remember him. Jerry, the thoughtful uncle and the willing listener, not the legendary coach with an edgy reputation.