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Into the Limelight
John Feinstein
December 12, 1988
After years of coaching in obscurity, Dick Tarrant got a pair of dazzling wins in the NCAAs and put Richmond on the map
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December 12, 1988

Into The Limelight

After years of coaching in obscurity, Dick Tarrant got a pair of dazzling wins in the NCAAs and put Richmond on the map

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Tarrant's long career in basketball began at Immaculate Conception High School in Montclair, N.J., and continued at Fordham University in the Bronx, where, as a freshman in 1947, he played for a moonlighting football coach named Vince Lombardi ("We were the only team around with a drop-back point guard," says Tarrant). Over the next two decades, he held several high school coaching jobs in New Jersey, but he left the court in 1970 to take a full-time job as a high school administrator. "I had a family to think about, so I gave up coaching."

But he didn't give up basketball. Tarrant started his own scouting service, picking up $50 a game observing future opponents for, among others, Bob Knight. In 1978, he got a call from a fellow named Lou Goetz, whom Tarrant had once coached in high school. Goetz had just been named head coach at Richmond and asked his former mentor, now 47, to be his assistant. "My first instinct was to say no," Tarrant recalls. "Why did I need to make that kind of move? I was happy doing what I was doing. But then Lou pointed out that I had three kids who were about to go to college. If I took the job, they could go to Richmond for free. That swung it more than anything."

The program Goetz and Tarrant took over was in a shambles. The Spiders do not have a grand basketball tradition. A private school, Richmond had played basketball since 1913 but had never once made it into postseason play. Goetz got things turned in the right direction, going 10-16, 13-14, 15-14. When he decided to leave coaching to go into business in the summer of 1981, athletic director Chuck Boone asked Tarrant if he would serve as interim coach for the coming season. "I told him I would do it, but I didn't want to be called interim," Tarrant says. "I just asked them to announce that I had been given a one-year contract as coach."

Boone agreed. Says Tarrant, "The press release said, 'Tarrant given one-year contract. Search committee to be formed.' "

It was hardly an ideal situation for a 50-year-old man who had never had a major coaching job. But for Tarrant, it was his chance. The Spiders opened that season against Wake Forest, which came into the game ranked 13th in the nation. Richmond upset the Deacons, 64-61, went on to an 18-11 record and hosted a first-round NIT game, the school's first postseason appearance. Even a loss to Maryland in that game couldn't diminish the Tarrant turnaround. The search committee never even had a meeting.

Now, after seven years, Tarrant and the Spiders are 137-76 with three NCAA appearances. He knows that a repeat of last season is unlikely, but he can still revel in the events of last March. "That weekend was our Final Four," he says. "Winning those two games was something beyond anyone's wildest dreams for us. We thought we could do it, but no one else did."

But the Spiders pulled it off. And Dick Tarrant has the tape to prove it.

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