Jerry Tarkanian Passes Away at 84

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  • Former UNLV Runnin’ Rebels head men’s basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian passed away at the age of 84 on Feb. 11.
  • He is survived by his wife and four children.

Former UNLV Runnin’ Rebels head basketball coach and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member Jerry Tarkanian passed away at the age of 84 on Feb. 11. His son Danny broke the news on Twitter.

Former UNLV Runnin’ Rebels head basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian passed away on Feb. 11 at the age of 84. 

His son, Danny, broke the news on Twitter:

The Tarkanian family issued a statement obtained by The Las Vegas Sun’s Ray Brewer:

“Jerry has been in fragile health since 2009. He fought his health problems with the courage and tenacity he showed throughout his life. Our family thanks, from the bottom of our hearts, all those who have sent letters and prayers, who have shown their love for Jerry and support for our family, the numerous fans, and the many players who considered him a second father. 

“Our hearts are broken but filled with incredible memories. You will be missed, Tark.”

According to a Feb. 11 update from ESPN, Tarkanian had been confined at Valley Hospital Medical Center since Monday for a respiratory illness and infection. It was his third time to be hospitalized in the past 10 months. In April of 2014, he had his second heart attack and had to be treated for pneumonia seven months later. 

Brewer notes Tarkanian still made it a point to attend UNLV home games on a wheelchair the past few years. For that, he regularly receive a standing ovation from those in attendance. 

Current UNLV Runnin’ Rebels head men’s basketball coach Dave Rice, a graduate assistant with the team during the 1991-92 NCAA season with Tarkanian at the helm, told The Las Vegas Sun’s Taylor Bern on Wednesday “Tark” was someone with no ego. Tarkanian, who made the switch to the 1-2-2 defense that season after a 3-2 start, also reminded Rice to always do the right thing:

“It speaks volumes about the man because a lot of people wouldn’t check their ego at the door, and he had no ego to check.

“He always told me to do what’s right. That was the thing as much as anything that he instilled in me and those around him — a commitment and a confidence to do what you felt was right for the people around you, not necessarily what was popular.

“He made you feel special. When you were in the room with him, you felt like you (were) the only person in that room. He just had the ability to do that. If there was a wall, you wanted to run through the wall for him.”

Tarkanian’s former player, Stacey Augmon, credited the former UNLV mentor with his development as a player and person, per Bern:

“I recall in high school, I had a reputation as a troubled kid, but Coach Tark was the type of coach that believed in everyone’s potential and gave everyone a second chance. I was one of those guys. I came to UNLV as a young, misled, misundestood kid, and just didn’t know anything about life. Coach Tark took me under his wing and after my five years at UNLV, I left as a young man with great values, a better person and with a great love and understanding of the game of basketball.”

Although Tarkanian was known primarily for his success at UNLV, his NCAA coaching tenure was anything but smooth.

Brewer says the NCAA vacated six of the Long Beach State 49ers’ NCAA tournament wins under Tarkanian and placed the school on probation due to alleged recruiting violations. Tarkanian left the program in 1973 

The NCAA then placed UNLV on probation before the 1976-77 NCAA season due to violations which allegedly occurred two years before Tarkanian was named Runnin’ Rebels head men’s basketball coach, per Brewer. The NCAA wanted UNLV to suspend him for two years. However, Tarkanian sued the NCAA and was able to resume his coaching job at UNLV. 

Tarkanian also had to deal with an issue revolving around a photograph of three of his UNLV players in a hot tub with gambler Richard “Richie the Fixer” Perry. The photo was taken in 1989 but was published just two years later, per Brewer. Tarkanian eventually resigned in 1992. 

Six years later, Brewer says the NCAA gave Tarkanian $2.5 million as a settlement — the largest in its history. Through it all, the NCAA claimed innocence in all of the actions it took against the embattled head coach. 

An HBO documentary entitled “The Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV” aired in 2011. It featured the team’s rise to prominence under Tarkanian as well as his clashes with the NCAA, per Brewer.

After watching the documentary, Tarkanian said,”I get upset every time I think about the NCAA. I get so mad whenever I read or see something about the NCAA and how they treated me so unfairly. I have to learn to better accept everything that happened with the NCAA. That is part of me.”

In 2013, UNLV announced it would erect a statue of Tarkanian outside the 18,500-seat Thomas & Mack Center, per ESPN. That same year, The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inducted him. 

Tarkanian finished with a sterling 729-201 (.784) record in 31 seasons with the 49ers, Runnin’ Rebels and Fresno State Bulldogs. He had an outstanding 509-105 (.829) record in 19 seasons with the Runnin’ Rebels, per ESPN. 

Tarkanian is survived by his wife, Lois, and four children.

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