Last night, as I do every Wednesday night between 6:00-7:00 pm during the college basketball season, I acted as the host for The Jerry Tarkanian Show. Only this time Jerry Tarkanian wasn’t there. I’ve been hosting his show for five years now and last night was only the second time ever he’s missed one. Each time he had an engagement he couldn’t get out of.
My idea was to do an hour on “Why Jerry Tarkanian should be in the Naismith Hall of Fame.” I know he wouldn’t do it if he were there and it is something I feel quite strongly about. Since the show was an hour long, explaining all of it wouldn’t be practical but here’s a summary.
First, I gave the history behind the battle between the NCAA and Tark. It started when he was the head coach at Long Beach State and the Long Beach Press-Telegram newspaper requested he write a guest column. Jerry being Jerry, he selected “selective enforcement of the rules” by the governing body. What he said was what all coaches (and others on the inside of the sport) knew to be true, but in those days, the NCAA was run by executive director Warren Brown who was known to be more like the czar of intercollegiate athletics. The gauntlet was thrown down and thus began the closer than normal scrutiny of Jerry and the schools at which he coached.
I told a story of tiny Western Carolina being put on probation for 23 (what would now be considered by the Kinder, gentler NCAA, minor) violations (they were turned in by a disgruntled player who had a brother at a big-time, not so clean, institution, who knew which silly rules violations to look for), yet how Kentucky was superslick when it came to CYA. Great stories but too long for this blog.
I readily spoke of Jerry’s flaws - the greatest of which, I feel, was not holding the kids accountable. They’d screw up and he’d call them “good kids,” meaning they were good kids who made a mistake. They took advantage of him by thinking, “Hey, we’re good kids and good kids don’t mess up, so what we did wasn’t a mistake.” In other words, he was too loyal to his troops - a not-so awful trait to have in this “throw them under the bus to make me look good and advance my career” type of leadership.
His reasons for inclusion were he won big at the high school level (San Joaquin Memorial in Fresno), at the JC level (multiple state championships at not one, but two junior colleges) and won big at three D-I programs, each of which was in awful shape prior to his arrival - Long Beach State (where he left a powerhouse for his successor, Lute Olson), UNLV (where he went to four Final Fours and won a National Championship - by the largest margin of victory in a final game, 103-73 over Duke in 1990) and his alma mater, Fresno State (where he went 7-7 in postseason play and won 20+ games a year in six of those, winning 19 in the seventh).
For all of his faults, I pointed out that coaching is putting your team in its best position to win and, contrary to other coaches who won by sticking with one system and recruiting players to fit that system, Jerry won playing full court, pressure man-to-man, half court man, 1-2-2 zone and amoeba zone. That is coaching.
I also mentioned that, prior to Don Haskins playing an all-black starting five vs. UK in the National Championship game, Jerry did the same in the Olympic Trials. After winning the event, a reporter went up to him and said, “Coach, how did you feel starting an all black team?” to which Jerry responded (which comes as no surprise to people who know him) with, “I did?” He wasn’t trying to make a political statement, just doing what was best to win. That, and other similar acts is why he’s in the Black Coaches Association Hall-of-Fame.
No matter what anyone thinks of him or his style, it’s impossible to contest these basic facts: 1) He could really coach. 2) He could get his kids to play hard. 3) His teams played an exciting brand of basketball.
For the anti-Tarks, I close with a quote from Stephen Covey they need to keep in mind:
“We judge others by their actions; ourselves by our intentions.” �