Updated: Jul 27, 2021
(Isaac Brekken/Associated Press)
By Taniel Koushakjian
On Wednesday, famed Universityof Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian passed away. He was84. New first broke after son Danny Tarkanian, a former Republican candidateand UNLV basketball player himself, took to twitter. “I will miss him every day of my life,” he said.
Jerry Tarkanian was known as coach “Tark the Shark,” a title attributed to the tenacious style of basketball he coached, and the strong desire to win that he instilled in his players. That style resulted in a national championship (1990), four NCAA Final Four appearances (1977, 1987, 1990, 1991), four-time national coach of the year (1977, 1983, 1984, 1990), and ten Big West conference championships (1983-92). Most the accolades occurred as coach of the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, but also include his coaching years at Long Beach State and Fresno State, his alma mater.
As the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame puts it: “Jerry Tarkanian beat the odds, challenged the system, and wrinkled the feathers of basketball traditionalist everywhere. But there is no arguing with success. His style, charisma, and basketball IQ produced championships and turned out great players for nearly 40 years.”
In 2013, Jerry Tarkanian was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Interestingly, he refers to the Armenian Genocide in his acceptance speech. An excerpt reads:
“For me this celebration we are having makes me feel very grateful to be an American. Here, the eldest son of an Armenian immigrant whose mother fled her homeland on horseback with only the clothes on her back, after her father and brother were beheaded by Turkish soldiers, it was my mother who gave me her unconditional love and many second chances. I was 13 when my father died. My stepfather said I would never amount to anything so much with sports all the time, and that I should look into becoming a barber. But my mother never gave up on me. So to mom, and all my Armenian family, especially my brother Myron and my sister Alice, thank you for your loyalty and love all these years.”
Tarkanian inspired a lot of people, especially Armenian Americans. “As an alumna of UNLV, I am deeply saddened by the loss of Coach Tarkanian,” stated Bianka Dodov, Board Member of the Armenian Assembly of America. “The Shark’s passion and devotion to the Runnin’ Rebels inspired a generation and created a legacy that will forever live on in UNLV, the city of Las Vegas, and college basketball,” Dodov said.
Both the New York Times and the Fresno Bee referenced his mother’s survival of the genocide, and provide through coverage of his life. Las Vegas Sun cartoonist Mike Smith made this solemn cartoon about Tarkanian the day after his passing.
In the last few days, Tarkanian has won praise from so many notable people from so many different walks of life that there is too much to republish here. The man was a legend and a class act. He gave hope to his family, to his community, and to his city. It is truly inspiring to see what the son of an Armenian Genocide survivor can accomplish in country like America.