Dick Tarrant has
his feet resting comfortably on the desk. A huge grin creases his face and his
eyes are alight with satisfaction. Though he has watched this highlight tape on
dozens of occasions, Tarrant beams like a movie director viewing his completed
picture for the first time.
"When we show
this, the kids get all excited," Tarrant says. "They really go for all
Glitter? It's not
a word that springs to mind here in the office of the head basketball coach at
the University of Richmond. This Virginia campus is a long way from
Hollywood—and in many regards just as far from Bloomington, Chapel Hill,
Georgetown or Durham, to name just a few of college basketball's more glamorous
outposts. And yet, right there on the highlight tape...look, there's Tarrant
being congratulated by Bob Knight. And there he is shaking hands with Georgia
Tech's Bobby Cremins, and now with CBS's Billy Packer. And there he is with a
smiling Dick Vitale. "I'm proud of you, big guy," Vitale is saying as
the tape rolls.
happily from behind his desk and says, "I'm five-nine and 163 pounds and he
calls me 'big guy.' "
But last March,
Dick Tarrant was big. Big news. Big time. Big surprise. In the NCAA tournament,
Tarrant took his Spiders—a team the selection committee considered no better
than 49th in the 64-team field—and beat Knight and Indiana, then Cremins and
Georgia Tech, all in a 48-hour period.
With two waves of
the wand, Tarrant's fairy godmother had taken an obscure, 57-year-old ex-Marine
with a gray perm and transformed him and his team into the Cinderella of the
Sweet 16. Suddenly all kinds of people were talking about what a great
basketball coach this Tarrant fellow had always been. "Dick Tarrant was a
good coach before I was even in coaching," Knight said to the media masses
after Indiana's 72-69 loss to Richmond. "He and his kids deserved this.
They worked for it."
Work. Now there's
a word that's more commonly attached to Tarrant. The man is nothing if not
hard-working, and his players love to talk about their intense and demanding
coach. "Every time you start to think he's cool, he nails you," says
junior guard Kenny Atkinson. "Then, just when you think you can't stand him
another minute, he does something great for you. None of us would ever doubt
him, though. He knows exactly what he's doing. I like to think of him as a sane
Tarrant's players feel for him is apparent in the way they giggle as they
gossip. "Never ever tell him something is unfair," says senior guard
Benjy Taylor. "That gets him going." Taylor puts on his best New Jersey
accent. "He goes like this: 'Don't tell me about unfair. If life was fair,
there wouldn't be Seeing Eye dogs. If life was fair, there wouldn't be war
veterans. If life was fair, there wouldn't be cerebral palsy centers.'
Life may not be
fair, but it does occasionally offer its just rewards. The victories over
Indiana and Georgia Tech constituted Tarrant's payoff for 10 years of hard work
at Richmond, first as an assistant and, beginning in 1981, as head coach. In
that time, the Spiders crawled out from under a 4-22 record in 1977-78, just
before Tarrant arrived, and last season registered a school-record 26
victories, including those in the dazzling postseason. Says Taylor, "No one
in the world thought we had a chance to beat Indiana except the players and our
parents. And our parents were just humoring us."
Never mind that
the clock finally struck midnight when Temple turned back Cinderella, 69-47, in
the East Regional semifinals. And no matter that three senior starters from
last spring's dream team are gone. The magic lingers on the Richmond campus.
Says assistant coach Bill Dooley, "When I talk to people now, they say, 'We
know you guys are going to be a little down this year, so you might only win 18
or 19.' When I was a junior here [Tarrant's first season as head coach] we won
18 and it was a miracle. Now it's a rebuilding year."