UNLV Pioneer: Jerry Tarkanian

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Biography

Legendary basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian built up UNLV’s Runnin’ Rebels team and ignited enthusiasm for their trademark style of play. He took the team to four Final Fours and brought home the national championship in 1990.

Tarkanian coached the Runnin’ Rebels from 1973 to 1992. He was nicknamed “Tark the Shark” and UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center, which was built during his tenure, was known as the Shark Tank.

Tarkanian was inducted into the national Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013, in recognition of his significant career highlights as a basketball coach. He is the first UNLV coach or player to be enshrined.

He compiled a Division I coaching record of 784-202 while at Long Beach State, UNLV, and Fresno State. With its 103-73 win over Duke University, Tarkanian’s 1990 championship team still holds the record for the greatest blowout in the finals of tournament.

Born Aug. 8, 1930, in Euclid, Ohio, Tarkanian earned an associate of arts degree from Pasadena City College in California before transferring to Fresno State, where he played basketball for the Bulldogs for two seasons before graduating in 1955 with a bachelor of arts degree. He later earned a master’s degree in educational management from the University of Redlands.

He began his collegiate coaching career at California’s Riverside City College in 1961, moving to Pasadena City College in 1966. Then in 1968 it was on to California State University, Long Beach. In 1973, he became head coach of the Runnin’ Rebels, the fifth in program history. After leaving UNLV in 1992, he briefly coached the San Antonio Spurs later that year. In 1995 he became head coach at his alma mater, Fresno State, remaining with the Bulldogs until his retirement in 2002.

In 38 total seasons as a coach, he won an all-time record 990 games among all divisions including junior college.

In addition to the Hall of Fame, a variety of honors have been bestowed upon Tarkanian over the years, including:

  • 2013 — UNLV introduced its One for Tark Legacy Project, which includes the installation of a Tarkanian sculpture outside the Thomas & Mack Center. It depicts the coach biting on the omnipresent game-day towel as he leans forward in his chair, appearing to watch a suspenseful moment in a game. The project was underwritten by the UNLV Alumni Association and paid for by private donations.
  • 2010 — A year that marked the 20th anniversary of the national championship, the UNLV Alumni Association presented Tarkanian with its Silver State Award for his contributions to UNLV and to the Southern Nevada community. It is the highest honor the association awards to someone who is not a UNLV alumnus.
  • 2005 — The university named the basketball court at the Thomas & Mack Center after Tarkanian.
  • 1998 — Named to both UNLV’s Athletics Hall of Fame and the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame.
  • 1983 — Named Coach of the Year by the United Press International.