By Cy Brown
In less than a week, the world has lost two of the greatest college basketball coaches in history. Dean Smith died on Sunday -- and on Wednesday came the news that former UNLV head coach Jerry Tarkanian passed away at the age of 84 after being hospitalized earlier this week for respiratory problems.
Tarkanian, known for chewing on towels while sitting on the bench, was a head coach at the high school, junior college, NCAA and NBA levels throughout his career. He was also renowned as a players' coach, someone more than willing to give one of his guys the benefit of the doubt and a second chance.
He won a national title with UNLV in 1990, and almost repeated the next year, making it to the final before losing to Duke. He was forced to resign in 1992 when a photo surfaced of three of his players sitting in a hot tub with a man named Rick "The Fixer" Perry. Tarkanian's squads always fell under heavy NCAA scrutiny, so much so that he sued collegiate's sports governing body for harassment. The NCAA never admitted to harassing Tark or any of his programs, but it did settle with him out of court to the tune of $2.5 million.
Those early '90s UNLV teams are some of the best in college basketball history, with a starting five that included Greg Anthony, Stacey Augmon and Larry Johnson. Going into the 1991 Final Four game with Duke, UNLV was 34-0. Had they not lost that game, we could be talking about that as the best college basketball team ever assembled. There's a legit argument they still are, considering they lost by two points to a Duke team that won consecutive national titles.
The life of Jerry Tarkanian is too wild and amazing to sum it in just a few paragraphs. We encourage you to read Dave Kindred's 2013 Sports on Earth piece on the verge of Tarkanian's Basketball Hall of Fame eligibility (he was inducted later that year). And check out his autobiography Runnin' Rebel, co-authored with Dan Wetzel, which includes anecdotes like Tark employing the help of good friend Frank Sinatra when recruiting few kids from the east coast or his recruitment of Raymond Lewis, a streetball player Tark described as "the greatest player I ever saw."
Meanwhile, the tributes rolled in on Wednesday.
HOF coach & great friend Jerry Tarkanian has passed away. We've lost two icons in the same week. Sad week for all who love this great game.- John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) February 11, 2015
Heaven is fielding an unbelievable coaching roster, RIP Coach Jerry Tarkanian, one of the best..- Reggie Miller (@ReggieMillerTNT) February 11, 2015
Thoughts and prayers to the family & friends of Jerry Tarkanian on his passing. He meant so much to our community. #RIPTark- Tim DeRuyter (@TimDeRuyter) February 11, 2015
A tough time-1st Dean Smith & now Jerry Tarkanian has passed / My sympathy goes out to his wife Lois & family RIP http://t.co/xxSMvPN5iy- Dick Vitale (@DickieV) February 11, 2015
You'll be missed, Tark.