golden age of coaches and an unsinkable shark

tark with towel


Winning is more complicated at this level.

This game has it all. There’s diversity, there’s uncertainty, there’s competitiveness, there’s passion and there’s sloppiness.

I’ll accept everything that comes with it because March Madness will prove (again) that college basketball is unrivaled in its overall ability to captivate the general public’s attention.


Myron Medcalf – ESPN




This is a quick nod to men’s college basketball.



I am an unequivocal college sports guy <versus professional sports>.



Even though I grew up in a non-sports household – I was the only one who not only lived, ate & breathed sports but even cared about sports – I remember always being able to find a tv and watch some college sports.


tark uclas streak1-popup

My most vivid memory as a young sports fan is watching Notre Dame’s Dwight “Iceman” Clay sink a shot from the baseline to beat UCLA and Bill Walton to stop their umpty game & multi season winning streak.


The screen was fuzzy.


The colors not as distinct as you get on HD today.


But the memory is still clear today.



And speaking of memories … let me begin with the unsinkable shark so I can say “RIP Tark.”


Jerry Tarkanian, Tark the Shark, famous for being the coach of the UNLV Running Rebels in the 80’s passed away yesterday.tark unlv bench



Danny Tarkanian @DannyTarkanian


Coach Tark, my father, the greatest man I have ever known, passed today, to take his place in heaven. I will miss him every day of my life.

11:54 AM – 11 Feb 2015




I included his son’s tweet because … well … can you ever think of a better tribute to a man than have his son write my father, the greatest man I have ever known …?



I admit.


I paused when I saw the news of his death and saw his son’s tweet.



I loved watching the UNLV Running Rebels play.



And the images of Tark biting his towel while patrolling the sidelines of some great UNLV teams will be memories I will never forget.



And I can’t think of a better match ever made … Tark the Rebel coaching the Running Rebels.




Jerry Tarkanian was a character.


People should take note of his passing because they don’t make coaches like “Tark the Shark” anymore.



He was an innovator <he created a defense scheme called ‘the amoeba’> who preached defense yet loved to watch his teams run as soon as they got the ball.

tark runnin rebs

In 1976-77 UNLV scored more than 100 points in 23 games … before both the shot clock and the 3-point shot.


UNLV focused on a relentless defense forcing turnovers that were quickly converted into points.



And maybe where he was most a rebel was with the players who he recruited and put on the court.


He recruited players other coaches often wouldn’t touch, building teams with junior college transfers and kids from checkered backgrounds.



I never met Tark, although I did see the Runnin’ Rebel play in the Shark Tank <where UNLV played>, but I believe he thought he could ‘fix’ any kid.

I believe he thought potential was more valuable than risk when he saw a kid.

I believe he didn’t consider some of the kids he recruited as ‘hi risk’ but rather ‘hi potential’ and only saw the upside in being successful in making a man of some boy.
In this he was viewed a rebel by some and by others as ‘ a rule breaker.’



I tend to believe Tark didn’t really see ‘rules’ when he walked into some kid’s home and spoke with him about playing basketball at UNLV … I think he saw hope <and rules be damned if it made someone a better version of who they were>.



I liked Tark.



I liked the way he coached.

tark augmon rice

And, frankly, I liked the men when they left his program after graduating.


He didn’t ‘fix’ everyone who he welcomed into the Running Rebel family and we tend to focus on those. Instead we should maybe count the ones he ‘fixed.’


The ones he made into men.


Today Dave Rice, head coach, and Stacey Augmon, assistant coach, lead UNLV basketball … both past players under Tarkanian.




Was he a Dean Smith-esque master of Xs and Os? No.

But few white men were better at understanding and empathizing with the young African-American basketball player.

Tarkanian possessed a gift, and it was walking into the projects of, oh, Detroit or Gary, Indiana or Newark, N.J. and leaving two hours later with the commitment letter signature of a 6-foot-5 kid who could jump from here to Pluto.


Jeff Pearlman







tark shark unlv


“Tark the Shark” built talented teams as outrageous as the city, with light shows and fireworks for pregame introductions and celebrities jockeying for position on the so-called Gucci Row courtside.



All of this non-basketball stuff made them polarizing but if you looked beyond the glitz and hype … they were well coached and talented <and rarely took a ‘night off’ when they played>.



“Everything had to be full-speed intense.

A lot of coaches want guys to be loose for games.

I never wanted them to be loose.

I wanted their hands sweating, their knees shaking, their eyes bulging. I wanted them to act like we were going to war.”

Jerry Tarkanian




And while Tark was a ‘one of a kind’ it did make me realize how special we have it today in men’s college basketball.



One writer suggested “we live in a Golden Age of coaches.”


I tend to agree.


bball coaches 3

And it’s not just the ‘old coaches’ … Coach K and 1,000 wins or the four other active Hall of Famers currently coaching <Jim Boeheim, Roy Williams, Rick Pitino and Larry Brown> or the other most likely future Hall of Famers <Bill Self, Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan, John Calipari, most likely Bob Huggins>.



It’s more about those up-and-coming young coaches stomping up & down the sidelines urging amateur athletes to overachieve or maximize their immature ego talents.




It’s about 46-year-old Sean Miller at Arizona and his younger brother Archie, whose Dayton team made a surprise run to the Elite Eight last year.
It’s about the fieriest young coach in the land, Gregg Marshall of Wichita State … the most exciting, Shaka Smart of VCU … the most cerebral, Fred Hoiberg of Iowa State … Ben Jacobsen of Northern Iowa … the most debonair, Jay Wright of Villanova … the biggest defensive genius, Tony Bennett of Virginia … Travis Ford of Oklahoma State … Jamie Dixon of Pittsburgh … the list goes on.




There is an impressive list of the young coaches who are not just shaping the current, and future, world of college basketball.




And just to be clear.



Women’s college basketball has their own ‘golden age’ occurring:



Geno Auriemma … Connecticut

Dawn Staley … South Carolina

Kim Mulkey … Baylor

Muffet McGraw … Notre Dame




While college basketball may be an acquired taste … coaches like Jerry Tarkanian are part of what makes it taste great.
College basketball will always be on my ‘one of the few things I will ever watch n TV’ list … maybe because it is inconsistently played but consistently interesting.



The key to loving college basketball is embracing its comprehensiveness.

MLB has 30 teams; the NFL 32; the NBA 30; college football 125.

College basketball’s top division has 351.

Every day from all over this crazy country of ours, there are college basketball games happening everywhere.

In New York City. In Los Angeles. In Natchitoches, La. In Itta Bena, Miss. In Charleston, Ill.

Will Leitch



tark the shark towel


In the end.



RIP Tark.



You made the game better.



You made Life a little better by letting us watch you do the things you did.

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Written by Bruce