Jerry Tarkanian: Coach? Legend? Champion

By John Krikorian

Jerry Tarkanian–former basketball coach of the 1990 NCAA Championship UNLV Runnin’ Rebels–will give a free lecture sponsored by the Friends of the Glendale Public Library–Thursday–April 20 at 7:00 PM. Tarkanian will discuss his revealing and hilarious autobiography "Runnin’ Rebel: Shark Tales of ‘Extra Benefits,’ Frank Sinatra–and Winning It All." Tarkanian visits the library to talk about college basketball–recruiting wars–his friendship with Frank Sinatra–and how he won a $2.5 million lawsuit against the NCAA. Parking at the Marketplace lot across the street from the Library is free for three hours with validation from the library. For more information–please call (818) 548-2042.

"I am an Armenian. That doesn’t mean a lot to a lot of people–but to Armenia’s–it means everything. And for good reason." Chapter 2 of Jerry Tarkanian’s recently released book–"Runnin’ Rebel" begins with these words. He is the controversial–colorful–winningest college basketball coach and this April–he is coming back to his local Armenian roots. "Tark the Shark," a nickname he earned because of his infamous sideline towel chewing habit–will be at the Glendale Public Library at 7:00 PM on Thursday–April 20.

From his birth in Ohio–early years in Pasadena–Fresno–and finally his rise to college basketball fame in Las Vegas–Jerry Tarkanian has taken the values and lessons he learned from his family–his Armenian roots–and early mentors with him.

His track record is highlighted by 19 seasons as the legendary coach of the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels–with a remarkable 778-202 record. Jerry was named "college basketball coach of the year" in 1983–1987–and 1990 with 17 appearances at the NCAA "big dance." Either in spite of or because of all of these remarkable accomplishmen’s–Jerry’s frequent habit of stirring up controversy–crossing the NCAA in his recruiting practices–his scorecard of NCAA penalties–and other general acts of rebellion–has led him to become one of the most memorable and beloved college basketball coaches of his time.

Born in Ohio–Jerry admits to not focusing seriously on basketball until he arrived at Pasadena City College as a coach in 1966. This career move was perhaps inspired by his early passion for Pasadena. When he was 14–Jerry’s father died tragically from tuberculosis and his mother moved the family to Pasadena in 1944. In his book–Jerry recalls of Pasadena as a city with one freeway leading to Los Angeles–hardly any smog–and full of orange groves. "It was just like paradise." Today Jerry’s brother Myron and his wife Virginia live in nearby Arcadia with Jerry’s nephew and three nieces. Both are teachers–a natural instinct in the Tarkanian family as evidenced by Jerry’s years as a coach and mentor to his players.

The strongest motive for the Tarkanian family’s move to Pasadena in the 1940’s–however–was the small Armenian community that existed there. The man who was originally to be named "Gregory" after an Armenian saint–but ended up as Jerry because of his mother’s broken English–is proud of all the qualities and traits he picked up from his family roots and still holds close to his heart today.

Jerry Tarkanian is now happily retired in Las Vegas with his wife of almost fifty years Dr. Lois Tarkanian–a City of Las Vegas Councilwoman. The couple has two sons and two daughters. His sons have followed in his footsteps–Danny played on his father’s first string at UNLV and became an assistant coach–also practicing law. Danny has now announced his candidacy for Secretary of State in Nevada–George is head basketball coach in Visalia–California. His daughter Jodie is a nurse and a homemaker and Pamela is a special education administrator in the Clark County School District.

In the end–Jerry Tarkanian may be the most colorful–but at the same time gentle shark out there–from his strong belief in teamwork–education and sportsmanship–to his local Armenian roots–family and love of the area that contributed so much to his passion for coaching basketball.

Early on–Jerry Tarkanian learned a valuable lesson from one of his coaches. The coach–Jerry said–"was an extraordinarily intense individual and he demanded equal intensity from his players." If that’s not the legacy of Jerry Tarkanian–personally and professionally–then really what is?

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