The first time I met Jerry Tarkanian was the summer of 1974 when he brought his two sons, Danny & George, to our summer basketball camp at Washington State. He was just starting to make UNLV a power, after turning Long Beach State into an NCAA tourney team, so when any of us coaches got a chance to talk hoops with him, we took advantage of it.
Throughout the years, I’d bump into Jerry, e.g. in 1976 when I was a grad assistant at Oregon and he brought his Runnin’ Rebels team to Eugene for the first and second rounds of the tournament (we were practicing for the NIT), during my stay at Tennessee in the 80s when we played them in the Las Vegas Classic and when I’d scout SEC teams playing in their Xmas tourneys and in the 90s when he was color commentator for our televised USC games. Then, in 1995, I joined his staff at Fresno State as Director of Basketball Operations.
As I’ve mentioned in this blogspace on numerous occasions, his approach to the game was basic, but definitely his own. Here are some of his ideas and how they compare to today’s game.
1) He didn’t believe kids got tired, especially during March Madness because of the extra length of the times out - which is why he’s not at all shocked that UConn was able to win five games in five days, and continue their stellar play.
2) He did not want his players to be “loose” before a game. “I want their veins popping, their muscles bulging, I want them sweating, . . .” That’s why, if he were coaching today, it would be doubtful his players would be dancing before a game. After a win, turn up the volume and boogey.
3) I asked him earlier this season on his radio show what he thought about the three-point shot when it was introduced. “I always liked it. I thought it was a fairly easy shot - as long as the right guys were shooting it.” As far as shooters going through slumps, “I’d always tell my ‘2 guard’ to keep shooting - even if he missed five in a row. I’d say, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll make the next five.’ ”
4) Dealing with foul trouble: “I’d usually keep the guy in the game. My philosophy was, ‘He’s not doing me any good sitting next to me.’ “ Naturally, if his team had a big lead, he might pull him, but he felt players usually understand how to play with fouls.
5) Although he employed different defenses throughout his career, his defensive philosophy was, “It’s better to play one defense great, than a lot of them average.” Shaka Smart might want to debate that thought.
6) He used to equate the term “poise” with “cool guys,” so saying his team was poised was no compliment to Tark.
As can be seen, some of his beliefs are shared by today’s coaches, while others aren’t, meaning the old adage is still true:
“There are a lot of ways to skin a cat.”