Meeting Tark the Shark

Posted: March 3, 2020 in Memories, Sports
Tags: , ,

The other day I wrote a story called Meeting the General in which I recounted the day I first met Coach Bobby Knight. While writing that one I was reminded of the time I met another coaching legend, Jerry “Tark the Shark” Tarkanian. Tarkananian was largely known as the legendary coach of the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels from 1973-1992 where he won a National Title in 1990. He also had an overall record of 706-198 so yeah, helluva coach. Because of all this it was pretty exciting to meet him one night back in the fall of 1986.

I was attending a basketball clinic at the University of Kentucky with some coaching friends, and after a day of speakers we retreated to the bar of the hotel in which we were staying. At first the place was pretty full, but as time wore on the crowd thinned out to maybe 15-20 people, mostly high school coaches from around the midwest.

Around 10:00pm I looked up and there at the door was Jerry Tarkanian and Dick Vitale. Both had spoken earlier and were apparently looking for some refreshments. They stopped, glanced around, spotted my group at a table in the back, and proceeded to walk right up to us and ask if they could sit down.

Well, hell yes. Have a seat.

We basically just shot the breeze with them for awhile, Tark being particularly friendly and asking where we were from, what level we coached, stuff like that. As time went on most of the table headed off to their rooms, including Vitale, which bothered me not in the least because he’d been a bit of a smug jackass. Tark? Not so much. Like I said, he couldn’t have been more engaging. Bottom line, it finally came down to four people at the table, with Tark regaling us with stories of his years in coaching.

At one point he and I had sort of drifted into our own conversation and I asked him if he had something simple I could add as a secondary offense for my team, which happened to be a bunch of 8th graders at the time. He promptly asked someone for a pen, grabbed some napkins, and drew up a little motion offense that included a coiuple backscreens and backcuts. He descibed some details and options you could run out of it, and that was that.

We then spent another hour or so talking, and finally got up and walked out together. As he started to leave, though, he turned around and said, “You know, I started out as a junior high coach too. It was some of the best times of my life. If you’re ever out in Vegas give me a call.” He then handed me a card and walked away.

Fast forward to the summer of 1989 when I was in Las Vegas with my friend Jigger. We landed, I played some roulette, I lost some cash quickly, and I realized I needed to step away from the tables before I lost my life savings. On a whim I decided to give The Shark a call and see if I could get hold of him. I had no idea if he’d even be in town. His secretary answered, I gave a quick explanation of who I was and how I’d met Coach Tarkanian, and was put on hold. A minute later she was back and told me that he said sure, come on over. Remember that this was nearly 3-years after we’d first met. I was amazed.

Of course I grabbed a cab to the Thomas & Mack Center (also known at the time as The Shark Tank), and sure enough a grad assistant was at the door waiting for me. Long story short I was given a tour of the arena and locker room facilities by The Shark himself. I even got to meet Stacey “Plastic Man” Augmon, a starter on the 1990 National Championship team and future NBA player. All told Tark probably spent an hour that day with me, a guy he’d met in a hotel bar years prior.

Before I left we exchanged information, he gave me a smile and a hug, and I went back to the casinos. He could not have been nicer.

Then, about 2-weeks later, I received a package in the mail. Inside I found an autographed poster, bumper stickers, and some UNLV gear along with a note thanking me for stopping in to see him.

That was the last time I met Tark personally, although we did chat a few times on the phone over the next few years.  And that offense he’d given me back in 1986? I ended up using it for years, very successfully I might add.

We called it Vegas.

Coach Tarkanian ended up being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013, 2-years before he passed away at the age of 84. Tark had many a run-in with the NCAA over the years, but his won-loss record and testimonials from the players and coaches who loved him can’t be denied.

As for me, I’ll never forget the kindness he extended to an unknown coach for no real reason, other than the fact he was a good and caring person.

 

Here’s a great documentary on the Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV. It’s worth a look.

Check out the highlights of UNLV’s dismantling of Duke in 1990.

 

Gimme a holler.

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