On the way back to town I tell Tarkanian about me and my brother Tom, and I ask if he's ever considered the possibility that nobody learns anything at college, anyway, except what they would learn a different way on the outside.
"Well," he says, "it took me six semesters to get through junior college and five more to get through Fresno State. Never missed a party. Then I met Lois, and she changed me. I got my master's—all A's and one B."
"You remember any of that stuff you had to learn?" I asked. "Anything?"
Tarkanian squints, thinking that over, driving past the turnoff again. "You know," he says. "I never looked at it like that."
Tarkanian's house is long and flat and set into the bend of a circular street of long and flat houses. It was part of the deal he got when he took over the UNLV job.
"Until I came here," he says, getting out of the car, "I never once asked what my salary would be, any job I took. When I went to Long Beach I took a $4,900 pay cut, and back then $4,900 was 20 percent of what I made. I just wanted the job. The truth is. I am a very poor businessman. Anytime I get near money, things turn out bad. When I came here, though, the kids were growing up, we were getting older, and Lois and I decided we had to ask what we'd make.
"I didn't want to come here at all, at first. They called every day, and I told them no, and they'd call again the next day. At Long Beach, though, they'd never done much for me or the basketball program, even after the success we'd had—and what we did in Long Beach is still the alltime miracle." What Tarkanian did in Long Beach was inherit a losing team and. without money or big-time facilities, compile a 122-20 record over five years.
"I never had an office to myself, or a secretary, or any kind of budget to recruit. There were no boosters, the alumni were all 30 years old. no help at all. When they finally saw I was serious about UNLV. though. Long Beach couldn't do enough for me. They offered me an office and a secretary, and a job as public relations director for the
. You know, the boat?
"And I was going to stay there—I loved my team that year—but they pressured me for a decision, and then, when I called a press conference to say what I was going to do, the president of the school said I couldn't hold it on campus unless I was staying. That's what got me here.
"I called UNLV, and they said what did I want. Which is what they'd been saying ail along. I'm not a big thinker. Everything I threw out, they said all right. It makes you wonder, later on, what you should have said you wanted."