Throwing in the towel
Fresno State's Tarkanian retires after 38 years in coachingPosted: Friday March 15, 2002 1:03 PM
Updated: Saturday March 16, 2002 3:01 AM
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - Jerry Tarkanian retired from coaching college basketball Friday, tossing in his chewed-up towel after a career that mixed success with scandal over four decades.
The 71-year-old coach will become a consultant for Fresno State, his alma mater, where he coached the last seven years.
Tarkanian won an NCAA title with UNLV in 1990 and is the fourth winningest coach in major college basketball. But he was hoping for a better exit.
"My intentions were this was going to be a great season and this would be a great way to walk away and head for the pasture," Tarkanian told fans and players on the campus. "I think every coach eventually has to head for the pasture and I stayed longer than usual."
The Bulldogs ended their season Wednesday with an 81-75 loss to Temple in the NIT. They finished 19-15, only the second time in Tarkanian's 31 years in Division I his team failed to win 20 games.
He was an unmistakable presence on the sidelines through the years, with his bald pate and hound-dog eyes. There was also his trademark habit: chewing on folded white towels to ease the tension.
Tarkanian, who waged repeated battles with the NCAA, finished with a 778-202 record. He had 29 20-win seasons, and only Dean Smith had more with 30.
"He's had an amazing career," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said from the NCAA Regional in Greenville, S.C. "Jerry had consistent high levels of success because his teams played hard defensively. He's one of the truly remarkable defensive coaches."
Tarkanian coined the "amoeba defense" and helped popularize the fast break in college play. He was known for giving players a second chance and reviving slumping programs.
He hopes for triumph this season, however, were doomed by problems off the court and Tarkanian said it became his most frustrating year.
Star point guard Tito Maddox was dismissed in August for accepting gifts from an agent. Maddox's replacement, Chris Sandy, was suspended for receiving a loan to pay for a community college course. Leading scorer Melvin Ely missed six games for receiving improper benefits.
"My last 10 years at UNLV, we lost 33 games," he said. "This year I lost 15. You figure that one out."
Before coming to Fresno State in 1995, "Tark the Shark" had cemented his reputation as a legend in Las Vegas, where he ruled an arena known as the "Shark Tank." He led the UNLV Runnin' Rebels to 12 NCAA tournaments, winning a national title and reaching the semifinals four times.
"As we complete that facility, it will be the House that Tark Built," said university president John Welty.
Tarkanian graduated from Fresno State in 1955 and returned there after a coaching stint with the San Antonio Spurs that ended with his firing after 20 games.
He spent 38 years coaching college ball, jumping from junior colleges in California to Division I at Long Beach State in 1968. He took four Long Beach teams to the NCAA tournament.
His defiance in the face of NCAA investigations kept lawyers busy for one season after another. Long Beach and UNLV were placed on probation as the NCAA investigated recruiting and player eligibility.
Tarkanian was ordered suspended from coaching for two years in the late 1970s, but he never sat out. He took his fight to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he lost a 5-4 ruling that said the NCAA was a private group and didn't have to provide the due process he sought.
Tarkanian said he ignored advice from other coaches to bow to the NCAA.
"I always say that I shouldn't talk about the NCAA and I always do," he said. "They've been my tormentors my whole life. It will never stop."
In 1992, after leading UNLV to a 26-2 record, Tarkanian was forced to resign after publication of photos showing three former players in a hot tub with a convicted sports fixer.
His contract at Fresno State specified that he follow NCAA rules.
In his first season there, he turned around a team that had gone 13-15 the previous year and won 22 games, reaching the NIT quarterfinals. Two of his Fresno State teams made the NCAA tournament.
But the team also stirred controversy. A federal point-shaving investigation was reopened two years ago and several Bulldogs have had other serious legal problems.
His team got off to a good start this season and was ranked in the Top 25 poll for three weeks in November and December. But the Bulldogs began playing inconsistently and failed to make the NCAA tournament.
Tarkanian had hoped to coach one more year, but said he didn't think he could raise the team to the level he wanted.
"This is the right time for me, and this is a good time for the university," he said. "Hopefully, things will work out."
When he returned to Fresno, Tarkanian said he hoped to end his career there. On Friday, he did.