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Jerry Tarkanian Biography

Helps Coach High School Team, Success At Long Beach State, Chronology, Awards And Accomplishments


American college basketball coach

Followed by controversy throughout much of his coaching career, Jerry Tarkanian put together one of the most enviable records in college basketball. Known by admirers and detractors alike as Tark the Shark, Tarkanian led his teams to four appearances in the National Collegiate Athletic Association's (NCAA) Final Four and one national championship during a collegiate coaching career that spanned nearly four decades. Before he stepped down as head coach at California State University, Fresno (commonly known as Fresno State) in March 2002, Tarkanian compiled an all-career win percentage of 80.3 percent, the fourth best in college basketball history.

More than 40 of the college players coached by Tarkanian went on to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA). He is perhaps best known for the 19 years (1973-1992) he spent as coach of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), a team that finished in the top 10 nine times under Tarkanian's guidance. His running battle with the NCAA stretched over more than two decades. Shortly after stepping down as head coach at UNLV, Tarkanian sued the NCAA, charging the athletic association had systematically tried to force him out of college basketball. Although the NCAA admitted no liability, the association settled the suit in 1998, agreeing to pay Tarkanian $2.5 million.

Tarkanian was born in Euclid, Ohio, on October 8, 1930. His mother, born Haigouhie Tarkhanian in Armenia, and her brother, Levon, had fled Turkish genocide in their native country. Later in Lebanon, she married a man with a last name similar to hers and moved with him to the United States, where she was known as Rosie. Tarkanian's father owned and operated a small grocery store in Euclid, and as a boy Jerry accompanied his father as he drove around town to make purchases. When Tarkanian was 11 years old, his father died, and his mother moved the family to Pasadena, California, where they lived with relatives. His only relief from the poverty of his youth was playing basketball and football.

Jerry Tarkanian

After high school Tarkanian enrolled at Pasadena City College but transferred to Fresno State University after winning an athletic scholarship. To supplement the meager stipend from his scholarship, he worked as an aide to Fresno State football coach Clark van Galder, who was to have a profound effect on Tarkanian's life. In his 1988 autobiography, Tark: College Basketball's Winningest Coach, written with Terry Pluto, Tarkanian wrote of van Galder: "He was an extraordinarily intense individual, and he demanded equal intensity from his players. How he got it was by becoming close with them, by forming an emotional bond. He would take me and my roommate Fred Bistrick, Fresno's quarterback, to the high school games with him…. We spent a lot of time with his family." When he became a coach himself, Tarkanian adopted much of the unorthodox coaching style of van Galder, forming a personal bond with his players rather than holding himself aloof as was more characteristic of coaches in that era.

Sketch by Don Amerman

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