Archive for the ‘Jerry Tarkanian’ Category

Getting Legitimized as a Writer

Monday, September 16th, 2013

During the Hall of Fame weekend there are tributes other than induction into the HOF that are given.  One is the John W. Bunn Leadership Award, the next highest honor to being inducted.  While the last college coach I worked for (at Fresno State), Jerry Tarkanian, was an inductee this year, my next-to-last boss, George Raveling (USC), won the Bunn Award (I also worked for Rav from 1973-75 as a graduate assistant at Washington State).   

When a representative from the Hall of Fame called me and said George had requested I write the article on him that was to be included in the official Class of 2013 Hall of Fame Enshrinement program, I jumped at the opportunityTo be included in this slick 162 page first-class publication makes me feel like a legit writer.  I was told to make it approximately 1,000 words which was no problem because George has done so much in his life.  And because verbose is a word that is often used when my name comes up.

“Is there anything I can do for you?”

If you’ve ever had a conversation with George Raveling, you’ll surely recognize his signature closing line.  What sets him apart in this day and age is that George really means it.

As a player, George was the leading rebounder.  Ever since his playing career ended, though, he’s been better known for his assists.  Like all college coaches, George was a major influence in the lives of those he touched.  Players and coaches, managers and trainers, custodians and administrators, all the people who make up an intercollegiate basketball program, George has had some kind of positive impact on nearly every one of their lives.  For George, a casual conversation with a fellow airplane passenger that turns into a 20-year correspondence is nothing out of the ordinary. 

Basketball has been so much of George’s life.  And so little.  George used basketball as a means to make an imprint on society.  A voracious reader, he always makes time to improve his mind.  He has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and a penchant for sharing it.  

In 1984 he was selected by Bob Knight as an assistant for the Olympic team.  Prior to the gold medal game, Coach Knight requested that George put some motivational material on the wall.  Even Knight was overwhelmed when he saw inspirational quotes covering the locker room walls.  Starting guard Steve Alford recalled the one that had the greatest impact on him: “Each one of us has a relative who sacrificed his life for this country.  The least we can do is to give 40 minutes of ours.”

There’s also the innovative side to George Raveling.  The guy who, well before the Internet, saw the need to inform others in the west of happenings in the world of sports elsewhere in the nation.  Since he was subscribing to over 50 newspapers nationwide for recruiting purposes already, he decided to “cut & paste” way before its time.  His notes were initially picked up by the Spokane Spokesman-Review.  Soon, “Rave’s Notes” was a syndicated column in 20 newspapers throughout the northwest. 

Or the guy who, when he saw there were only “all-sports camps” out west, started Cougar Cage Camp, a basketball-only, overnight-only camp on the campus of Washington State.  By year three, there were five, one-week sessions of 600 campers per week.  A week for girls followed and that, too, was sold out by the second year.  So he added another.  The result: Five weeks of 600 prospective WSU students per week (three for boys, two for girls) representing every state in the union and several foreign countries.  The admissions office would forever be in Coach Raveling’s debt and President Glenn Terrell told him exactly that.        

Each Friday at Cougar Cage Camp at 1:00 pm there would be a motivational speech by Coach Raveling.  It became as popular with the high school coaches working camp as it was with the campers.  During the third session of the first year, one of the coaches (who’d worked the first two weeks) asked Coach Rav if he minded if he tape recorded the speech.  By the next Friday, there were five or six little microphones.  Don’t try to slip a good idea by George Raveling.  He recorded his “week five” speech, sent it away to get professionally cleaned up and the cassette, “If It’s To Be, It’s Up To Me” was created.  To date, it’s sold over ten copies.

If ever there was a “coaches’ league,” it was the old Pac-8.  Having lost his first couple years, George came to the realization he wasn’t going to be able to out-recruit the rest of the conference.  His recruiting system, to say nothing of his camp success, made him a highly sought after speaker at coaching clinics.  At that time, these clinics were at their height of popularity, but the reason they were run was to make money.  George “had a better idea.”  He selected coaches he admired who had a reputation as an expert in a certain area of the game.  He invited five of them to a clinic, each to speak on their specialty.  His topics, naturally, would be recruiting and camps.  Only this clinic wasn’t about money.  It was exclusively for the six coaches.  To share ideas and improve their craft.  As the years went by, other speakers were brought in to increase the scope.  That self-improvement clinic, as well as a number of other imitations, still exists today.

Those stories illustrate that George is not only innovative but a man of action.  One of his earliest exhibitions of “Just Do It” was in Washington, DC.  You don’t really think he was the only person who wanted Dr. King’s I Have A Dream notes, do you?  Yet he was the only one who asked!  If something interests George, he has absolutely no inhibitions.

Duane Cooper, USC’s point guard for George’s best team summed up his former coach with these thoughts: “I know I speak for many of the guys before and after me when I say Rav has enhanced my life and opened my eyes to many things and ideas I may not have thought of or believed in.  He made our team aware of the world and was always willing to help us.  That ‘giving thing’ may be one of Rav’s best attributes.  Most of his players and coaches will tell you that they are better off because he was a part of their lives.”

As if he hadn’t given enough of himself, rather than retire, he accepted a new job – at the age of 70 – as the Director of International Basketball for Nike.  He started their grass roots program and now he’s been enlightening folks from other countries for the past decade.  The hoops world is shrinking and much of the credit goes to Coach Raveling. 

Renaissance man, coach, educator, innovator, role model, ambassador.  Whatever we choose to call George, if there was a “six degrees of George Raveling,” the total might be close to the world’s census.

It was Thomas Edison who said:

“Only a life lived for others is worth living.”

Pete Rose, Hall of Famer, Is Looking Better and Better

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

For years those people in the know claimed there would be no way Jerry Tarkanian would ever be elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.  Yet, during the weekend of Sept 6-8 none other than Coach Tark will be among the inductees.

If there was a sports figure infinitely more polarizing that Tark, it’s Pete Rose.  Old timers, or as they would rather refer to themselves, traditionalists, made similar a statement about Rose and his possibility to get into Cooperstown.  Pete violated the rule posted on every locker room wall in professional baseball.  Thou shalt not gamble.  Understandable.  If there’s ever a game steeped in tradition, it’s baseball.  There has never been a sport that has lagged behind the others when it comes to modernizing.

Other than the Black Sox scandal, baseball has welcomed nearly everyone else with gaudy numbers to join its immortal club.  It was always anti-Pete because 1) he bet on baseball (although there has never been a claim he bet against his own team nor did he ever do anything to influence the outcome of a contest) and 2) he continually lied about it.

Today what baseball has is a group of superstars who also have HOF numbers (even if some aren’t as good as Pete’s) but have 1) cheated (by using PEDs) and 2) continually lie about it.  Several have come clean in exactly the same manner as Rose has – admitting their guilt (although not right away).  Questions abound regarding the future of the Hall of Fame.  Are guys with Hall of Fame credentials going to be left out?  What happens to an institution which supposedly is composed of the best players in the game that . . . doesn’t have the best players in it?  (Since it’s my blog, let me go on record as saying Pete Rose belongs in the HOF, even if he has to be accompanied by an asterisk).

Since it’s a team sport, the ultimate goal would seem to be winning.  But the Hall of Fame is for individual accomplishments.  Players get selected as individuals, not as teams.  There have been great teams – the 1927 Yankees, the Big Red Machine, the Koufax-Drysdale Dodgers (my favorite), etc. – but the Hall exists for players.  While guys will say their number one goal is to help the team win, baseball is more of a game made up of a series of individual matchups, i.e. pitcher vs. batter.  Does this mean that, when the smoke clears, players secretly (or not so secretly) have getting into the Hall of Fame as a personal goal as soon as they start accumulating awesome stats?  In essence, being selected for the Hall of Fame is the ultimate form of appreciation and as William James said:

“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”

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 CoachGeorgeRaveling.com, 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?”