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Former UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian Dies At 84

After some tough elder years, Jerry Tarkanian has passed away.

27 Nov 1998: Head Coach Jerry Tarkanian of the Fresno State Bulldogs looking on during the Carrs Great Alaska Shootout Game against the Duke Blue Devils at the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage, Alaska.
27 Nov 1998: Head Coach Jerry Tarkanian of the Fresno State Bulldogs looking on during the Carrs Great Alaska Shootout Game against the Duke Blue Devils at the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage, Alaska.
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

Dean Smith died Saturday, so it's a bit odd that his polar opposite in coaching, Jerry Tarkanian, died just four days later.

Tarkanian (odd fact - his middle name was Esther, but it may be a man's name in Armenian culture for all we know) will get a lot of kind comments now, including, predictably, some from that great marshmallow, John Feinstein.

He would prefer people think of him as a hard-shelled newspaper man of yore, but he when it comes to people he cares about, he's a rank sentimentalist. Loyalty is one of his better virtues. He never turns on a friend.

Anyway, Tark is getting credit for seeing earlier than most that the NCAA is not as clean as the driven snow and for being an outstanding coach.

That's deserved.

But there were many sides to Tarkanian, and as much as he found the NCAA to be hypocritical and exploitative, well, so was he.

Dick Vitale used to like to call Tarkanian Father Flanagan, as if he were merely gathering up the urchins and orphan boys and setting them on the straight and narrow.

Some did well, to be sure. But his old shtick of saying that at least he exposed his players to college and maybe got them a little further down the road didn't wash then and it doesn't wash now either. They got very little out of the bargain other than his friendship, brief fame and a saturnalian life in Vegas which the Caesars would have envied.

He brought, or tried to bring, players who were completely unqualified to UNLV, including Lloyd Daniels, who read on a third-grade level, and it wasn't to help them academically. It was because they could ball.

A Tarkanian assistant became Sweetpea's guardian, and it turned out later that he also had a connection with Richard Perry, a noted fixer. This photo probably caused more damage to UNLV than any photo to any program ever.

You just don't want your players in a hot tub with a known fixer, or anywhere else Anderson Hunt was the only active player in the photo; the other guys were no longer eligible.

Anderson Hunt's name was painted on a private court at Perry's Vegas home. You can say that he didn't do anything. You can say nothing was proven and that's true.

You also have to say that the guy hung out with a known fixer and that there were rumors about the Duke game being fixed. That's terribly unfair to Duke, but the rumors have never entirely gone away.

We don't doubt that Tarkanian did good things for some of his players, at least while they were in school. At one point he said that maybe by helping young players, no matter how unqualified, that maybe their children would become doctors and lawyers. It'd be interesting to check up on that.

We don't doubt that he cared for them, but when it was all said and done, Tark's kid was the one who went to law school.

We don't expect that he ever helped a marginally qualified kid get into school who didn't play basketball, and when the ones he was happy to take advantage of were done, what of them?

We'd be  happy to be wrong about this, but we're guessing that the money stayed with the Tarkanians.

Tark's criticisms of the NCAA were accurate in retrospect. That's not the problem though. The problem is that you could make most of the same accusations about Tarkanian as well. He leaves with a lot of affection and appreciation, but it would be good to remember that as well.

We have a great Tarkanian story we're not at liberty to publish but if you happen to see us around, you can always ask.