by Don Yaeger
The year was 1989. I had authored my first book about the NCAA and its “justice system.” The book hadn’t sold many copies, but those who had purchased it expressed hope in its message. One of the people who liked the book was Jerry Tarkanian, head coach of the University of Nevada Las Vegas men’s basketball team. He had been through a very long battle with the NCAA—considered then to be the most powerful organization in sports—over allegations that he’d cheated as a head coach.
As was his nature, Tarkanian, the son of a resilient Armenian immigrant, didn’t take the NCAA accusations quietly. His family had faced many perils—his mother even survived the Armenian genocide—and they taught him always to stand strong against adversity. Tarkanian’s defiant spirit consistently fascinated me. At the time, I had only written one book and yet he offered me the opportunity to tell his side of the story. Truthfully, as a young man with a budding career, I hadn’t earned that opportunity…but he trusted me.
All of us have had someone give us a break and trusted us to do things we haven’t yet proven we could. Tarkanian was that guy for me. I had the opportunity last month to sit with him and thank him…words I wished I had said many years ago. I’m saddened today to learn of his death.
Recently, two icons of basketball passed away. I didn’t know Dean Smith well, but I loved Jerry Tarkanian. He lived a truly Great life and will be dearly missed.