Jerry Tarkanian, the Hall of Fame basketball coach who turned UNLV into a national power in the 1980s, died Wednesday after battling a series of health issues for several years. He was 84.
“It’s certainly a very sad day for UNLV and for all those who played for coach or coached with him or cheered for him,” former UNLV player and current UNLV coach Dave Rice said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “But (it’s) also a day for us to celebrate the life of a great man and certainly a fabulous coach.”
Tarkanian’s impact on UNLV – and Las Vegas – cannot be understated. Scott Ferrall said that when he thinks of Vegas, he thinks of three people: Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Jerry Tarkanian.
“Absolutely,” Rice said. “You think about 509 wins and only 105 losses at UNLV and four Final Fours and a national championship, but it was so much more than that. It was the style of play. And I think Coach Tark – as much as anyone else in the history of Las Vegas and Southern Nevada – help put UNLV on the map and certainly put the city of Las Vegas on the map.”
Rice played on the 1990 UNLV team that beat Duke, 103-73, in the national championship. He was also on the 1991 squad that lost to Duke, 79-77, in the semifinal. The Runnin’ Rebels entered that game 34-0.
“What fabulous games those were,” Rice said. “We obviously won in 1990 and then lost in the semifinal in 1991. I think we found out the following year just how good Duke was. I mean, with Christian Laettner and Brian Davis and Thomas Hill and certainly Grant Hill and Bobby Hurley – it was a phenomenal matchup. We had won by 30 points the year before, and Duke had a great basketball team as well. Those are games that people are still talking about to this day.”
Rice, 46, became the head coach at UNLV in 2011, this after serving as an assistant coach at BYU, Utah State and – in the 1990s and early 2000s – his alma mater. He won at least 20 games in each of his first three seasons at UNLV. This year, the Runnin’ Rebels are 14-10 overall and 5-6 in the Mountain West Conference.
“There’s an unbelievable standard of excellence that Coach Tarkanian set on the court,” Rice said. “But I think the thing for us who are here now is how proud Coach Tark was that I’m here, how proud I am that Stacy Augmon is on my staff. For (Tarkanian) to be able to be part of what we were doing – I got the head-coaching job four years ago and he was able to come to practices and come to games and it was just such a great thing for our players to get to know him. And every time he’d come to a practice, our players would literally run to greet Coach Tark. And again, he hadn’t coached at UNLV since 1992, but just what he means to this program and the city of Las Vegas can’t be matched.”