In Memoriam: The Stories Jerry Tarkanian Left Behind

At one point, the flood of sports giants leaving us wasn’t tilted to one particular sport. Ernie Banks, Billy Casper, Dean Smith — they left large marks on three separate theaters of competition.

Now, though, college basketball has lost two larger-than-life figures in less than a week’s time. Following Dean Smith’s passage late Saturday, UNLV icon Jerry Tarkanian died Wednesday morning at the age of 84. Two coaches in both the 1977 and 1991 Final Fours, gone in under a week.

We offered a reading list for Dean Smith, one we continuously updated over the course of the week. We’ll do the same here for Tark the Shark, but do know at the outset that two remembrances are worth featuring for their depth of detail and color. Consider these first two stories the “pinned tweet” equivalents for a Jerry Tarkanian reading list:


Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports writes a far-ranging remembrance of Tark, celebrating the man’s presence in so many wild stories… and his delight in telling so many of them as well.

Chris Dufresne of the Los Angeles Times writes the paper’s obituary for Tark, packing the piece with notes from the coach’s days at Long Beach State in addition to his fame-bearing tenure at UNLV. There are some other eye-popping details in the piece which younger basketball fans certainly will encounter for the first time.


Those are the gold-standard overviews of Tarkanian’s career. What follows are more specific recollections of his legacy and the imprint left by his best UNLV teams:

From 1991 — just before that year’s NCAA tournament — Curry Kirkpatrick, one of the great writers for Sports Illustrated in its heyday, offered this on the Runnin’ Rebels in their quest for perfection, something Kentucky is shooting for this season.

Matt Youmans of the Las Vegas Review-Journal writes this story on the tight bonds Tarkanian forged with his players over the years.

Ed Graney of the Las Vegas Review-Journal says that Tark permanently changed the sport of college basketball.

Andy Glockner, formerly a full-time writer for Sports Illustrated and now the executive editor of the terrific sports website The Cauldron, shared this retrospective on the great 1990 and 1991 UNLV teams, 20 years after they captured the imagination of college basketball fans from coast to coast.

Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated shares Tark stories here.

Esteemed Sports Illustrated college basketball writer Alexander Wolff offers his appraisal of Tark in this piece. 

Adrian Wojnarowski — yes, him — submits his column on Tark here.

From ESPN, Dana O’Neil wrote about Tarkanian’s indisputably complex legacy here.

Andy Katz, who spent a lot of time as a college basketball reporter in the West (at multiple newspapers) before graduating to ESPN, offers his assesment of Tark in this piece.

Tarkanian’s coaching career concluded — and hit the 700-win mark — at Fresno State. The Fresno Bee offers this timeline on Tark’s life and career. You can find links to other Tark-related stories on that page.

Rob Dauster of College Basketball Talk at NBC Sports profiles a relatively obscure Tark recruit at UNLV, Chris Jeter. The piece shows how Tark opened doors even for the players who didn’t make it big in the NBA.

Ray Brewer writes the Las Vegas Sun’s obituary for Tarkanian.

About Matt Zemek

Matt Zemek is the managing editor of The Student Section, covering college football and basketball with associate editors Terry Johnson and Bart Doan. Mr. Zemek is the editor of Crossover Chronicles, covering the NBA. He is also Bloguin's lead tennis writer, covering the major tournaments. He contributes to other Bloguin sites, such as The AP Party.