"No, none of the boosters' kids go here. They go to USC or Stanford. The boosters never went here, the alums didn't even go here. But they love us."
As we drive, the houses are beginning to thin out again. I ask Tarkanian what happens when the team loses. "Everything depends on winning," he says. "We lose a game or two on the road, the building will be a third empty until we start to win again. The seats will be paid for, but we don't get the crowds when we're losing."
"Does that bother you?"
"Well, you've got the kind of situation here that Shula has in Miami," I say. "The town loves you, but it depends on winning, on five kids you took out of junior college somewhere playing good basketball. If you lose, the town doesn't love you anymore."
"When I lose," he says, "I don't love me anymore, either. Losing just kills me."
And that is probably true. Tarkanian does not lose much—among active coaches, not even Dean Smith at North Carolina is close to his winning percentage of .816 (he is 324-81 at UNLV)—but when it happens, he takes it hard. He takes the possibility of losing hard.
"I always think the other team is better," he says. "I always think there's a good chance we're going to lose, even when we're better.
"I never talk to the players about that, though. In all the years I've been here, I never talked about winning or losing. Before a game, I just go over the other team, talk them up if they're bad, try to give our players confidence if they're better than we are. I talk about responsibility, and I tell them there's no disgrace in losing if you don't take short cuts to get there."
"Tark is a mess before a game," a writer who has watched him over a lot of years told me. "And he's worse after a loss. He doesn't shout and blame the referees or the players, he doesn't throw things around the dressing room. I do remember watching him come in after the loss to N.C. State [in the '83 NCAAs], though. He just walked past the writers and players and dropped his forehead into the lockers. But mostly, he suffers. Tark comes from suffering people, and he does it as well as anybody."