Jerry Tarkanian, blasting UNLV, says he won't go
Most Las Vegas performers know how to make a graceful exit. But it simply isn't in Jerry Tarkanian's nature to take a bow and step quietly offstage. No, Tark the Shark is the kind who has to be dragged away, kicking and screaming. That's why those who have followed his tumultuous 19-year career in the desert should not have been surprised by the news on Sunday night that Tarkanian was rescinding the agreement he made in June to resign as UNLV's basketball coach at the end of the current season.
He did it with a real show-biz flair, making the announcement at the end of a 2½-hour pro-Tark rally in a church in Las Vegas. The crowd of 350, which included most members of the team, clapped hands, sang hymns and booed whenever the name of Robert Maxson, UNLV's president, was mentioned. Many wore T-shirts that said KEEP TARK on the front and FIRE MAXSON on the back. "We got torn up from the inside." Tarkanian told the rally. "We got dismantled from the inside. It's totally unbelievable."
Dismantled? By beating New Mexico State 69-58 Saturday night, what was supposed to be Tarkanian's final team of Runnin' Rebels ran its record to an unexpected 24-2, clinching the Big West Conference title. That should have been a nice going-away gift, as well as one last testament to Tarkanian's coaching ability. But it wasn't enough for him. He had to make yet another grandstand play, not simply to save his job—Maxson later said it couldn't be saved—but apparently to humiliate the UNLV administration.
Tarkanian believes that Maxson sold him out to gain favor with the NCAA, which now has an infractions case pending against UNLV involving 40 alleged rules violations. In recent months the rift between the administration and the basketball office has widened over such matters as a photo in the Las Vegas Review-Journal of three former Rebels in a hot tub with convicted fixer Richard Perry; illicit preseason practices conducted in the guise of classes; and, most recently, a Review-Journal story saying federal authorities were investigating rumors that some members of last season's team had shaved points.
As Tarkanian saw it, the point-shaving story was only the latest in a series of administration leaks designed to embarrass him—a charge Maxson hotly denies. The latest scandal apparently triggered his Sunday announcement. "For me to coach next year is not the important issue," Tarkanian said. "The important issue is to find out what happened."
Not really. The important issue, at least for Tarkanian, seems to be revenge, whatever the price. Even before his about-face, Tarkanian's players voted to file suit to block the NCAA from proceeding with its infractions investigation. As part of the complaint, the players' lawyers will ask for a restraining order that would allow the team to compete in this year's NCAA tournament. (Tarkanian and UNLV had agreed in 1990 to sanctions that would bar the '91-92 team from postseason play and TV appearances so that last season's team could play in the tournament.)
The upshot of Tarkanian's latest maneuvering is that UNLV will be subjected to more embarrassing headlines and, in all likelihood, more dreary lawsuits. Tarkanian can't win this fight. But he can delay the hiring of a new coach and. thus, the beginning of the healing process that should be UNLV's top priority.
—WILLIAM F. REED
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