LAS VEGAS– Every major Las Vegas Strip casino-hotel and several off-Strip and downtown properties went dark for three minutes at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday in honor of the beloved former UNLV coach, Jerry Tarkanian, who passed away last week.
Reportedly, the timing coincided with the end of University of Nevada at Las Vegas first basketball game since Tarkanian’s death.
A private funeral was helf Monday for Tarkanian, with services being held at Our Lady of Las Vegas church.
Tarkanian’s son, Danny delivered the eulogy of his father, which we present below:
Today, I am here to speak to you about the Greatest Man I have ever known.
I believe I can provide a unique perceptive on Jerry Tarkanian. I was his ball boy, his player, his assistant coach, and his attorney, but most importantly I am his son, and I loved him more than I have ever loved anyone. And he was most deserving of that love.
My father came from humble beginnings. His mother, Rose, barely escaped the Armenian Genocide. She watched her father and oldest brother beheaded and the rest of her family and friends herded into a church and burned alive. She migrated to America at a very young age and survived the Great Depression and the early death of her husband.
To provide a better life for her three children, she packed up her family’s entire belongings and drove to Calif. 300 miles every day, and as my father would say, most of the time on the wrong side of the road. Grandma Rose provided my father the love, support and guidance he needed to be successful in life.
Dad idolized his mother and could never speak about her without breaking into tears. I honestly believe that my father never quit when faced with insurmountable odds because of the perseverance, tenacity and determination his mother had demonstrated.
Dad had very little money when he was young. In fact, in college, he and his close friend Harry Gaykian would go to a coffee shop order hot water, pour some ketchup in the cup, add some crackers and call it tomato soup.
When Dad got married he didn’t even own dress shoes, he only owned a pair of tennis shoes. His mother bought him his first dress shoes for his wedding, which he kept in his closest to the day he passed.
Dad was a poor student. It took him six years to graduate college and would have taken him longer if my mom didn’t write a few papers for him.
Dad didn’t play for a great coach nor play at a powerful basketball school. He really didn’t have a mentor.
In fact, his stepfather even told him to forget sports and to be a barber. And for those of you that remember my 6th grade crew cut, you know Dad made the right decision being a coach.
With that background, how in the world did he become the greatest coach in the history of college basketball, change the lives of thousands of people, save the lives of many more and be the best father there ever was?
I think his brother stated it best. Dad was like Columbo. His appearance and the way he acted made you believe he wasn’t all there but in reality he was three or four steps ahead of all of us. There were many times Dad said or did something I didn’t agree with and then as late as several years later I understood why and realized he was right.
He understood people, how they thought, what they wanted and how to motivate them, better than anyone I know.
My father trusted people and he had the unique ability to earn trust in others. Early in his career, Dad met with a player named, John Q. Trapp. John had been kicked out of his previous 4 schools and had even spent nights in jail. He had never trusted a white person before.
Dad told John this was his last chance. That if he screwed it up there wouldn’t be another. But if he listened to what he had to say and worked hard, John would have a bright future.
He finished by telling John, “By the way, I am taking my wife to dinner. Will you watch my four children?” At the time, the oldest was only 11 years old.
Dad knew what he was doing. John ended up being our regular babysitter, even driving Pam to her weekly ballet class.
John’s father was quoted in the paper as saying, “No man had ever been able to handle John before, including myself. I would move to the ends of the earth to have my son play for Coach Tarkanian.”
As Dad had promised, John had a bright future, playing several seasons in the NBA
My father was fiercely loyal and he expected loyalty in return. In 1979 he turned down the Lakers job knowing they were going to win the NBA championship with Magic Johnson because UNLV stood by him when the NCAA tried to suspend him from coaching.
He was loyal to all of his players, and was often maligned by the press for doing so but his players were fiercely loyal to him in return. In 1990, when the NCAA placed the defending national champions on probation and barred them from post-season play, all four seniors could have transferred to another school and played immediately. All of the pundits felt they would. However, none of the players even considered transferring. They were too loyal to Dad, their teammates and the University.
Dad was honest with people. Of all the wonderful things said about Dad these past few days, the one from Colin Coward would have made him most proud. Colin is a former Channel 13 sportscaster and now works for ESPN. Colin said, “Without a doubt, the most authentic coach I have ever met in sports is Jerry Tarkanian.”
Sometimes Dad was brutally honest. He always said you could never B.S. players, they would see right through you. And he never did.
During my first season at UNLV, some of the players were complaining that Dad was favoring Sidney Green and Larry Anderson. Dad decided to put a stop to it. One day, after practice, he sat the team down and told them, “I heard some of you think I am favoring Sid and Larry. I want you to know, I am. Sid and Larry are carrying this team. If we were on a desert island and I had one cantina of water, I would make sure Sid and Larry had enough to drink. If there was anything left over I might share it with the rest of you.” I was thinking, even your own son, Dad.
He really knew how to motivate people. He didn’t do it by yelling or demeaning them. He did it with sarcasm and wit.
When our team wasn’t playing real hard in practice he would sit us down and tell us, “You all are a bunch of bandits. Next time you pick up your scholarship check wear a mask and gun because you’re robbing the University, that is what you are doing, you’re robbing the University.”
Dad had the most amazing work ethic and he required the
same from everyone who worked for him. He always said he would never hire an assistant coach who owned golf clubs or a fishing pole. He didn’t want assistants vacationing. He wanted them there to help his players
Dad knew how to treat people and understood the unique difficulties they faced. One of his favorite mantras was, never put a kid so far into a hole he can’t climb out of it. That is why he gave players a second and third chance.
He always hired an assistant coach who had just been fired. Because he knew how it felt to have someone try to take their job from him.
Dad loved people and loved to talk sports. His favorite time was sitting at a bar talking to sports fans. On numerous occasions, some drunk fan would tell Dad, “You need to do this or that and your team will play better,” Dad would patiently listen and respond, “Is that right, You don’t say”. The drunken fan would go home and tell his girlfriend how he straightened Coach Tark and his team out. Dad was most happy talking to people.
Dad had the greatest sense of humor concerning things that had to be very painful to him.Who could forget his famous line that “The NCAA got so made at University of Kentucky that they put Cleveland State on two more years’ probation.
Or the line, when asked why he took so many four year transfers, he replied “Because they all have their cars paid for.” That one came from Greg Goorijian. Remember that white Fiat you brought with you from Arizona State, Greg.?
For those of you that were lucky enough to attend Dad’s weekly booster luncheons I am sure you never laughed so hard.
Former assistant coach, Dan Ayala, said Dad’s best quality was his mental toughness and focus. Dad faced what should have been insurmountable distractions throughout his career, the NCAA battles, the court cases, the player suspensions, the attacks by his own administration but somehow he stayed focused and put one championship team after another on the court.
However, in my opinion, Dad’s best quality was the way he treated his family. There is a reason he is so deeply loved by all of us. It is because of the way he treated us, with more love and affection, than any of us deserved.
As busy and focused as Dad was in becoming the greatest coach in college basketball history he always made time for his family and included us in activities when other coaches wouldn’t.
Each year Nike paid for the coaches to attend a weeklong vacation at some exotic resort. While all the other coaches brought their wives or mistresses, my father insisted that his four children join him. Before long, all of the other coaches started bringing their children as well.
When we were young and had little money. Dad would speak at some event, such as Athletes in Action, and bring the entire family. We would pile in a RV and drive across country spending nights at the local KOA until we got to the event. Our family still believes those were the best times of our lives.
As we got older March Madness became our favorite time of year. It was three to four weeks of constant excitement. The memories of those trips would exceed those of most people’s lifetimes.
Each year we have a family reunion, with over 40 people in Bass Lake. In the evenings, we take over the entire deck listening to Dad tell timeless stories and drinking wine. It couldn’t get any better and left each of us waiting anxiously for the next year.
Dad never wanted his kids to move far from home. In fact, he never wanted us to move out of his home. As a result, all four have lived within blocks of him.
When I was young, I would accompany Dad to his office and shoot baskets in the empty gym while he worked.
Some of my best memories were accompanying the Long Beach State teams on road trips as the team’s ball boy. My favorite picture is my father and I sitting on the bench, with his arm draped around me and we are staring at the scoreboard in the final seconds of his first NCAA tournament win.
I was the ball boy sitting at the end of the bench in 1971 when Long Beach State almost upset the powerful UCLA Bruins. Sidney Wicks free throw hit the back of the room straight up in the air, skidded across the rim until it finally went in. The loss was that close and that heartbreaking. Dad had often said it would have been the greatest upset in NCAA history.
After we moved to Las Vegas, Dad agreed to help coach my middle school team before the City playoffs. However, that didn’t last long for me because he threw me out of practice when I wouldn’t listen to him.
That didn’t stop me from wanting to play for him and the Runnin Rebels. My first year at UNLV, I tried to call him Coach but it sounded phony. Dad hated phonies. So the last two years I just called him Dad because that is what he really was to me.
While at UNLV, Dad made it clear what he wanted from his point guard. In practice, during my first season, the point guard I was competing with took a shot on a 3 on 1 fast break and Dad screamed at him.
The point guard said, “Coach, just tell me, when do you want me to shoot the ball and when don’t you. I will do whatever you say.”
Dad responded, “Michael, if all 5 guys on the opposing team fall down and die and they are lying there listlessly on the court, then you can shoot the ball but I want it to hurt so badly you never want to do it again. Sometimes Dad’s honesty was a little hard to take.
One day in practice, the player I was guarding kept scoring on me. Dad yelled, “Danny, Is that player that good or is it just because you are guarding him.” Sometimes Dad’s humor was a little hard to take also.
However, one of the things I am most proud of in my life is our 1982-83 team became the first team in UNLV history to be ranked No. 1 in the country. We started the 10 year run where UNLV won 330 games, 10 league championships, 3 Final Fours and the National Championship by the largest margin in NCAA history.
I don’t want to spend a lot of time spewing out numbers but I must give you a few just so we can put Dad’s career accomplishments in perspective.
Dad took over a Riverside City College basketball team that had finished last in the league the two previous years. In his last four years he won 131 games and lost 9, while winning three straight State Championships something that had never been done before or since.
He took over a Pasadena City College team that had won only 3 games the previous year and in his two seasons won 67 while losing four. He won a fourth straight State Championship and lost the 5th by one point in overtime.
He took over a Long Beach State team that had not won a game outside of California in seven years. He won 121 games while losing only 20, going to the Elite 8 twice.
At UNLV, Dad won 509 games and lost only 105.
After 24 years on the collegiate level, Dad won over 83% of his games, the highest winning percentage in NCAA history
In Dad’s first 24 years of collegiate coaching his teams went to 15 Sweet 16s, 7 Elite Eights, 4 Final Fours and won the National Championship. He did this at small state schools with limited budgets and resources. And to be honest with you players, he didn’t have the best talent
And he did all of this while constantly being harassed and maligned by the NCAA, his own administration and some in the media. They tried time and again to destroy him but Dad kept battling back stronger than ever.
However, the true impact of his life isn’t measured in wins, loses and championships it is measured by the impact he had on some many people’s lives.
People stop me all the time and tell me about their favorite play or favorite game. They tell me how much Dad’s teams meant to them, often stating it was the most enjoyable time of their lives.
What Runnin Rebel fan doesn’t remember the red carpet, the multi-colored light and fireworks show, the jaws clap, the laser shark circling the arena and the Shark mascot roaming the court devouring people. There will never be a time like this again.
Over the past five days my family has been inundated with calls, emails, and texts from former players, and coaches who told their story of how Dad changed their lives forever, and many others who said he had actually saved their lives.
The night before Dad passed, Fresno State’s star center, Melvin Ely, called him from Japan. I put the phone up to his ear. Melvin told Dad, he took a troubled young boy out of Harvey, Illinois brought him to Fresno and turned him into the man he is today. If it wasn’t for Dad, Melvin said he would have died in the streets of Harvey.
I recently heard a stat that teachers and coaches touch more people’s lives in one year than most people do in a lifetime. Well, Dad didn’t just touch people’s lives, he touched the lives of people who needed it the most, the ones without hope, the ones in greatest despair, and the ones discarded by society. He was there to provide them a chance and to give them a future.
However, the longest lasting impact from my father’s life will be the greatest team he ever assembled, with my mother, his four children, 11 grandchildren and their children. We have a lot to live up to to earn the distinction of being a part of Dad’s family.
You wanna talk about the biggest upsets in all of history, it has to be a first generation Armenian, whose family survived the Genocide and the Great Depression, who endured the early death of his father, had little money and less education, but made such an impact in his life that the New York Times, Washington Post, the London Times, CNN, Espn, even Hong Kong, Israel and Madrid reported on him. The Las Vegas Strip, the most famous street in the world, is going to dim their lights in honor of my father, a distinction he shares with presidents Reagan and John F. Kennedy. Pretty impressive company.
Despite all of the adversity Dad faced, in death, as he did what he had done his entire life, he Won. I am sure Grandma Rose met him at the gates of heaven and told him how proud she was.