Archive for the ‘Jerry Tarkanian’ Category

Insight into Tark’s Over the Top Loyalty Toward His Players

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Yesterday’s wrap up quote claimed that the people who don’t like Jerry Tarkanian never really got to know him.  Many of his critics claimed he gave his players too much leeway, i.e. his disciplinary beliefs were too soft.  I’ve always maintained that one thing I particularly liked about working for Jerry was that he let you be yourself.  Of the ten head coaches I worked for, he was definitely the easiest in this regard.  He felt that he hired us to do a job so why not let us do it.  That’s not to say he wouldn’t take us tot ask if our job performance wasn’t up to par.

In the case of players, the standard line the coach would use when one of the guys would get in trouble was, “He’s a good kid.”  Where his philosophy might have backfired was several of the players we took shouldn’t have been themselves.  Being themselves is what got them where they were.  True, many of his players took advantage of his ultra-loyal nature.  Many people wondered, “How could an intelligent guy” - which when it came to understanding people, Jerry was as good as anyone - “be duped so often?”  A story from his early coaching years sheds evidence on his behavior better than any psychological explanation can.

It was at the beginning of his junior college career and Tark was no different than most budding, young coaches of the time - a fiery leader who wanted to show he was in charge and was going to demand full intensity at every practice.  On of his best players had a really bad practice, playing well below his potential.  Making matters worse was that it was the young guy’s second subpar practice in a row.  If anyone knows Jerry, practice is absolutely sacred time.  It’s when teams are made into winners.  Or losers.  Any great coach feels exactly the same.  He told the kid to see him in his office after practice.

Once the player walked in, Jerry immediately jumped his case - yelling at him about how he was letting the team down, that the only chance they had of being a great squad was if this kid was the leader - that his effort would dictate how practices, and then games, would turn out.  He got hit with the full wrath of a young Coach Tark.

Jerry said the player had tears in his eyes and began to apologize.  What he said would have as much of an impact on Jerry Tarkanian as any other incident in his long, storied career.   “Coach,” the kid began, “I know I’ve let you and the team down the past few days.  It’s just that all I’ve had to eat for the past three days is ketchup and water.  We don’t put the water in to make it taste better, just to make it last longer.”

Tark has said he got a lump in his throat, as he does to this day when he recounts that story.  “I never, ever, considered that was the reason the kid was having bad practices.  I couldn’t believe anybody had to live like that.”  The coach made sure the young man got something to eat from there on out and, sure enough, he became the player Jerry thought he would be.

There are many versions of the following quote but the most pertinent in this case - and the most telling when it comes to explaining Jerry Tarkanian’s feelings toward his players - might be:

“Try walking a mile in my shoes and see how far you get.”

Love Reigned Down on Tark in Fresno

Monday, August 26th, 2013

Saturday night, at a packed Elbow Room restaurant, Jerry Tarkanian’s favorite Fresno hangout, nearly 150 of his friends honored him with a pre-induction Hall of Fame dinner party.  One by one, people would stop by the 83-year-old former coach’s table to thank him for being their friend, for turning around a program that had become non-competitive and for creating so much excitement at Selland Arena that the university had no choice but to build the on campus facility.  Speaker after speaker told of Tark’s humility, people skills and uncanny knack of unforgettable events.

A couple stories dealt with the coach and five of his friends who would annually go to a big-time football game.  On one occasion they dined at a high class Italian restaurant in South Bend.  A group of tough guys in expensive designer suits kept looking over at the “Fresno” table.  The waiter came over with a bottle of wine for Coach Tarkanian and his friends, compliments of the “suits.”  As the guys left, they stopped by the table and said, “Coach Tark, we really enjoyed watching your teams play.”  After they were gone, the owner told them their friends were members of the John Gotti family.

Another incident took place when the fellas took in an Oklahoma State game.  They were at a pregame function in which it seemed everyone in the room was trying to have a conversation with an obviously very popular man.  When the man saw Jerry and his group come into the room, the man broke away and walked up to Coach Tark and said, “Coach, I really admire the way your teams played.”  That stranger was T. Boone Pickens who, not so unbelievably, Jerry found absolutely fascinating as well.

Larry Abney, one of Jerry’s former Fresno State players spoke from his heart about being a college graduate with a good job (selling solar systems) and having had a 13 year professional career overseas in numerous countries (and had played on every continent except Antarctica).  “I owe it all to Coach Tark.  I remember early in my career Coach telling us that we could bullshit our friends and we could bullshit our parents and we could bullshit our professors but, when the game started, all the bullshit ended.  That struck a chord with me I took on the court every time I played.”

Jerry’s son, Danny, spoke to the group about how their family would leave southern California to spend summers in Fresno - and how unbearably hot it was for the Tarkanian youngsters.  “We could never understand what our Mom and Dad liked so much about the Central Valley - it was so hot!” the younger Tarkanian told the crowd.  After returning to assist his dad at Fresno State, Danny said he could see how accepted and loved his dad was, even more than he was in Las Vegas where Tark realized his greatest success, including a national championship in 1990.  On behalf of his father (who’d had a heart attack and is in poor health), Danny thanked those who attended as well as the people of the San Joaquin Valley.

While he was a lightening rod for many, one Hall of Fame coach (who shall remain nameless because I haven’t been able to reach him and don’t want to attribute the following quote - which I’ve heard him say - without first speaking with him) said about Coach Tark:

“I don’t think there’s ever been a person who really got to know Jerry Tarkanian who doesn’t like him.”

Tarkanian Finally Gets His Day

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

It’s back to school for Alex today.  Actually, we have two cars heading to Monterey but only one will return.  After a freshman year without a vehicle, Alex will be with wheels this year.  Then it’s back to Fresno to emcee the pre-Hall of Fame induction party for my former boss and one of the greatest basketball coaches of all-time, Jerry Tarkanian.  This blog returns Monday.

On September 8 Jerry Tarkanian, along with several others, Gary Payton and Rick Pitino for two, will assume his rightful place in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.  His statistics make people wonder why he hasn’t been in HOF for quite some time.  Such as: 4 Final Fours (’77, ‘87, ‘90, 91), National Champions in 1990; 38-18 (67.9%) in NCAA tournament games; four straight California state junior college titles (1963-67) at two different JCs (first three at Riverside, fourth at Pasadena); won at least 20 games at three different Division I universities in his first year at each (all were perennial losers prior to Tark’s hire); 29 twenty-win seasons, second to only Dean Smith who had 30; 42 NBA draft picks, 12 first rounders.   

Yet, what many know Jerry Tarkanian for best is his battle with the NCAA.  The condensed version is when Jerry was at Long Beach State he was asked to write a column for the Long Beach Press-Telegram.  In it, he was expressed his concerns about the fairness of the NCAA enforcement staff which, naturally, the powers that be didn’t appreciate.  What happened subsequent to the article differs depending on whose story you want to believe.  When the smoke cleared, however, the court ruled in the coach’s favor - about 30 years later - to the tune of $2.5 million.

In most instances, the loser would hold a grudge.  And there are a great many people who feel that’s exactly like why it took so long for Tark’s Hall of Fame selection.  The question that begs to be asked is, “Was it worth it?”

Mark Warkentin, the assistant general manager for the New York Knicks (and one of Tark’s assistants at UNLV), spoke at the May 14 pre-HOF induction party in Las Vegas and bluntly answered that question:

“Evil can take place when good people do nothing.  Coach refused to do nothing.”

A Good Intention That Backfired

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Yesterday it was reported that the Denver Nuggets’ Ty Lawson and his girlfriend each got arrested for domestic violence.  Nothing more than yelling and breaking each other’s phones.  The following is a story from my book, Life’s A Joke.  Another example of real life being funnier than any fictitious story.

As times change, so do the social and legal items you need to discuss with your team.  Today’s society is a much more litigious one and is also, as everyone is well aware, the age of information.  Athletes are much more highly scrutinized today than at any time in history.

One thing we did at Fresno State each year was have the chief of police speak to our basketball team about various issues such as parking tickets, behavior on and off campus and other items that needed to be addressed.  Prior to the 2000-01 season, Chief Lynn Button spoke to the team in the locker room before a practice at Selland Arena.  He went through the first few topics, then said, “What I’ve saved for last may be the most important.  All of you are big strong guys.  The women you’re dating are nowhere near your physical match.”

He then proceeded to talk about date rape and domestic violence, explaining to them what proper behavior was, how “no” meant “no” and how to walk away if there is any kind of confrontation or disagreement which could escalate.  When he asked if anybody had any questions, one of our guys stopped him in his tracks.  He was a 6′6″ Italian with a model’s body.  Obviously, he was extremely popular with the ladies.  He was as serious as he could be when he raised his hand and asked, “What if they ask you to spank them?”

After clearing his throat, Chief Button could only manage a response of “Excuse me?”

“You know, what if they ask you to spank them?” repeated our Italian stud.

Even Tark was speechless.  The moral of the story is:

“Some questions are best left unanswered.”

A True Feel Good Story

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

A great many stories today are negative, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you’re wasting your time on this one.  A transaction in the sports section most people, including your truly, missed late last week was the appointment of Andrew Robinson as the head men’s basketball coach (and full-time professor) at Imperial Valley College.  I found out when the new coach called me this past weekend and excitedly told me the good news.

If anyone ever deserved a break, it’s Andrew - or “Drew” - as he’s known to most people.  He played hoops in high school and, being a self-professed gym rat, continued with college intramurals and wherever he could find a game.  Also, he seldom missed a Bulldogs’ practice, his entire time at Fresno State coming during the Jerry Tarkanian era.  Watching Tark’s practices were a tremendous influence to a young, aspiring coach.  Actually, Tark’s practices were a tremendous influence on any coach.  Drew figured that out immediately and it fueled his desire to coach basketball.  In fact, when Tark retired in 2002, I took a local high school job and the day it was announced, I got a call from Drew, asking if he could be my assistant.  How could I turn him down?  He’s claimed me as his mentor ever since.

But I digress.

My association with IVC’s new head man began early in each of our Fresno State days.  I taught The Theory of Coaching Basketball class and Drew was one of the students in it.  Most of the class (approximately 35 students) was made up of male and female athletes, the majority being football players.  One day I received a call from the coach at Roosevelt High School who told me he had an opening for an assistant and wondered if I knew anyone who would be interested.  I told him I wasn’t sure how many kids were planning on getting into coaching but that I’d ask them the following day.

Right after I took attendance I told the class about the call and explained how impressive it would be to have actual coaching experience on a resume prior to graduating college.  If anyone had an interest, they should see me after class.   As soon as class was over, there was Andrew (as I knew him), saying, “Jack, I’d be interested in that position at Roosevelt.”  First, let me say I was somewhat taken aback since what Andrew had just said might have been the first words I’d heard from him - other than “here.”

Sure enough, he showed up two days later, absolutely exuberant.  “Hey, Jack, I got the job!”  I congratulated him and reminded him that, in addition to himself, he was representing Fresno State, our coaching class . . . and me.  With so many acts of self-indulgence in college basketball, one of the greatest thrills I’ve ever had came a couple weeks later when Drew burst into class and said:

“Hey, Jack, do you know I’m getting PAID to do this?”

Best of luck, Drew.  You’re truly one of the good guys.

It Might Not Be an Exclusive Club But I Am Honored Nonetheless

Saturday, June 15th, 2013

When I decided to venture into college coaching - basketball of all sports - I was naive enough to think I could crack into the game and quickly advance up the ranks.  I’d played football in college and when I graduated, I was offered a job at my alma mater, Highland Park (NJ) High School.  I was to teach math and coach football and basketball - head JV and assistant varsity coach in each sport.  I was the only coach on either staff who was single and all the other coaches - the guys who’d coached me in high school - kept telling me that if they were in my position, they’d apply to be a graduate assistant.  “The university will give you a stipend and waive the tuition for your masters,” they all said.  I told them I was going on a letter-writing campaign to do just that.  All of them thought it was a football position I was trying to attain.

To make a long story short (come to think of it, I believe that’s the first time I’ve ever used that phrase), I got my one and only offer from the University of Vermont.  It might not sound like much but keep in mind, at that time, I didn’t know one college basketball coach, head or assistant at any level.  The profession, for 90+% of the coaches tends to be a transient one and, one hopes, upwardly mobile.  In all, I worked at nine different Division I institutions, in eight different states.  Three of the jobs were as a graduate assistant, three as a full-time assistant, two as associate head coach and one as director of basketball operations.

While I never did get the elusive D-I head coaching job I coveted, I enjoyed the thirty year journey.  And, this year, 11 years after I left the business to return to the high school scene (and a year after my retirement), I found out that two of my former bosses were receiving a pair of the highest honors in the coaching profession.  My last position in the college game was as director of basketball ops at Fresno State for the legendary Jerry Tarkanian who, finally, was elected to the Hall of Fame.  No one deserved it more.  Another of my mentors was George Raveling, a brilliant man I toiled under as a grad assistant at Washington State and returned to work with 16 years later at USC as his associate head coach.  George’s has been selected as the John W. Bunn Lifetime Leadership Award winner as a contributor, a prestigious honor among whose past recipients include former NBA commissioner Larry O’Brien and Providence head coach and founder of the Big East Dave Gavitt.

Both of my guys will be on hand at Hall of Fame weekend Sept 6-8 in Springfield, MA.  And so will I.  A quote that sums up my contribution toward each of these great men is from, believe it or not, the Dalai Lama:

“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others.  And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”

How Low Will the Airlines Go?

Friday, May 24th, 2013

No basketball game to talk about so let’s deviate from hoops and make it a little comical.  A week ago Tues I had the honor and pleasure to emcee Jerry Tarkanian’s party in Las Vegas to celebrate his long overdue selection to the basketball Hall of Fame.

On Wednesday we flew back to Fresno on one of those United commuter planes.  After the safety instructions ended - you know, the ones that show you how to fasten a seat belt, in case, as Jerry Seinfeld says, “you haven’t been in a car since 1962,” the flight attendant told the passengers that the lights were going to be dimmed.  If we wanted, she explained, there was a button above for an individual reading light.

I pushed it and the resulting light might have been of negative wattage.  It was nearly as dark after I turned on the light than before I touched the button.  Just then, I glanced to my right and saw the guy in the cross aisle seat was experiencing the identical problem.  He turned to me and, considering the state of affairs with airlines today, gave me a line I wished I had said:

“Maybe you have to pay extra for an overhead light, too.”

Four Guys - and Certainly Not Eight - Are Not Necessary to Analyze the Heat-Bulls Series

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

It’s great to be back but I’m leaving again.  I’m honored to be the emcee at the party in Las Vegas tonight to celebrate Jerry Tarkanian’s induction into the College Basketball Hall of Fame.  When I get back, it’s off to the Stanford Pain Management Center for a pump refill and check up.  Then, into the car to drive down the 101 to Monterey to pick up Alex who just finished his first year of college at Cal State Monterey Bay and bring him home for the summer.  He claims he nailed it academically this semester.  If he can match his inaugural season in college hoops, in which he was one of only ten players in the country to make the Division II Freshmen All-America team - and the only one from the west coast - he’ll have had a successful beginning to college life.

Not done yet.  For those of you who have ever checked out, the website for my boss previous to Tark, you might have seen the video section entitled #JackAndCoach.  On it, I turn the tables on George who has interviews with individuals such as Oscar Robertson, Nolan Richardson, David Falk (MJ’s agent) and my man, Tark, among many others.  In our segment, I pose questions to get to know “the inside Rave.”  Currently, there are between 25-28 “shorts,” about 3-5 minutes in length.  Some are very funny, others quite moving, all entertaining.  We spent about five hours shooting last fall and it’s time for round two, so I’ll be, ahem, on location in LA, as they say, this weekend.  This blog will return Monday.  

The Chicago Bulls teased the entire country when they won Game One of their best-of-seven series with the Miami Heat - in Miami.  Nate Robinson showed what a little guy can do when given a chance - and is playing for a contract.  The fact that Nate hasn’t stuck with any of his five teams yet has more to do with his just being an ultra-short little guy.  The performance that night - and his continued aggressive play despite all the odds - raised the eyebrows of fans and, probably some general managers.  Last night was an abomination of a contest.  Tired or other issues?  Why haven’t the Bulls been able to repeat an effort like they did in the opener?

ESPN has four guys talking about it when the games are on their stations; TNT has four (in my opinion, better) analysts discussing the contests when they’re aired on their network.  The groups chime in on what has happened and what needs to be done to fix the problem.  In each case we hear about how some player needs to contribute more, to become that all-important creation of analysts - the X-factor.  Basically, the talking heads aren’t necessary for this series.  When a superstar is forced into street clothes, it’s obvious the team’s getting nothing from him that day.  In addition, they’re probably going to encounter a serious drop off at that spot in the lineup.

The complete analysis for the Bulls and Heat goes as follows:

“The Bulls have lost their starting point guard and both wings.  They’re playing against the best basketball team in the world.  Next?”

Game 7: Bulls @ Brooklyn

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

It’s vacation time!  This will be my last blog until Tuesday, May 14.  Look forward to returning with more stories to entertain and inspire.

Whatever anyone says about Jerry Tarkanian, no one refutes he was the master of getting guys to play hard.  The one type of guy who Tark couldn’t stand to have on his team, whom he knew that if he played, sooner or later, they were going to lose.  He called that kind of player a “Cool Guy.”  I haven’t talked to him yet about the Chicago Bulls but I imagine he was totally impressed.  Not because they won in Game 7 but because . . . they don’t have any cool guys.

One coach Tark has always been unbelievably impressed with is Tom Thibodeau.  Tibbs doesn’t like cool guys either.  He took a Chicago Bulls team without Kirk Heinrich, Luol Deng and, of course, Derrick Rose, a former MVP whose services he hasn’t had all year, into Brooklyn’s brand new digs and came out a winner.  He took a franchise which has had incredible success - but had never, NEVER, won a game 7 on the road.  Yet they did it.  Why?

Thibodeau has been telling us all along:

“We have enough.”

Belated Congrats to Tark on Getting into the HOF

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

It’s no secret I felt Jerry Tarkanian should have been in the Hall of Fame.  Well, he finally got voted in and I didn’t blog a thing about it.  Since I, and several others, worked on righting what we saw as a wrong (for six years), allow me to share part of the four-page document I passed along to people I knew who had “juice,” people “who knew people” and media outlets (including USA Today).  The season-by-season records were naturally included; what follows is a list of items that separated Jerry from others.

Tangible reasons:

            1 – Overall record: 990-228 (81.3%); Division I: 784-202 (79.5%), 729-201 (78.4%) counting vacated games                                                                             

            2 – 4 Final Fours (’77, ’87, ’90, ’91); National Champions in 1990  

3 – 38-18 (67.9%) in NCAA Tournament games

            4 – Undefeated seasons 1963-64 (JC); 1990-91 (D-I regular season)

            5 – Won four straight Cal JC titles (1963-67)-at two JC’s (Riverside & Pasadena)

            6 – Won at least 20 games at three different D-I schools in his first year at each – (every school was way down when he got there)               

            7 – Won championships at high school, JC & D-I levels

            8 – 29 twenty-win seasons, 2nd to only Dean Smith who had 30

            9 – Was the first to start five black players (’64 Olympic Trials, before Don Haskins’ Texas Western national champions) – and won it

            10 – 42 NBA draft picks, 12 first-rounders

Intangible reasons:

            1 – The most difficult job a coach has is to get his or her team to play hard.  Whether a coach is a supporter of Tark’s or his severest critic, no one will ever

                  say his teams didn’t play hard

            2 - Won playing 1-2-2 zone, full court m-m, half court pressure m-m, amoeba

            3 – His strength was his weakness: loyalty.  His biggest flaw was he didn’t hold  kids accountable because he let people be themselves.  He was the anti-

                  authoritative coach.  It was always about the players; never about him.  


            4 – What started all the controversy was when the Long Beach Press-Telegram requested he write an article and he was critical of what he felt was the

                  hypocrisy within the organization.  Many coaches feel he wrote what others thought but wouldn’t say.


            5 – How many coaches who won NCAA D-I Championships are not in the HOF?     

6 - If breaking NCAA rules disqualifies a coach from admission, there are a whole lot who ought to be asked to vacate.

            7 - He took a team that was on probation, couldn’t go to the post-season and had started 2-2 and threw out his defensive philosophy.  He changed to a 1-2-2 zone (which he 

      last used in 1972) and won 24 straight to finish 26-2; with a team that had no motivation, nothing meaningful to play for.  That’s coaching!

            8 - He always agreed to share his ideas with colleagues.  He was truly a coach’s coach.  

As much as he won, he was always incredibly nervous before games.  His famous quote was:

“A perfect season would be all practices, no games.”