That’s about the only way to describe how we should feel about Jerry Tarkanian, the Hall of Fame basketball coach, who passed away from heart problems in Las Vegas after a year of declining health.
The Nevada-Las Vegas Running Rebels, their torrid fast break offense, the suffocating defense, their towel chewing-droopy eyed coach, the man who authored a defiant war with the NCAA.
There were so many sides to Jerry Tarkanian, so many storylines, so many angles, so many accomplishments, so many violations, he was sinner and saint all at the same time.
He was an independent thinker, a salesman, an architect of great defenses, a maverick, a leader, a criminal, depending on who you talked to, and what they had experienced with him.
His Hall of Fame credentials, a (729-201) record, was built with bright lights and fastbreaks, run by athletes, not necessarily student-athletes, respected by some, condemned by others.
There wasn’t a fight Tarkanian would not take on. Against the holier than thou UCLA Bruins in the John Wooden era; or the war with Bobby Knight over academics; or the wins-losses and responses from Dean Smith-North Carolina and Mike Krzyzewzki at Duke.
His whole sales pitch was about opportunities for players, those from wealthy backgrounds, and those off the streets. He took scholars and slime balls, put a red jersey on them, and let them play.
From the Juco ranks at Riverside City College to Pasadena City College, onto Long Beach State, UNLV and Fresno State, he won, put players in the NBA, and had his teams wind up on probation.
Tarkanian’s teams were led by great NBA players, some who became great citizens, Larry Johnson from Texas, Stacy Augmon from Georgia, Eddie Ratelff from Ohio, Sidney Green, Reggie Theus-player turned coach, and Armon Gilliam from Peekskill, New York.
But Rebel basketball also entailed Lloyd Daniels from Brooklyn, who wound up arrested for dealing cocaine, to Richard Box, a murderer-Richie Adams, Moses Scurry, and so many others, who ran afoul of the law. Lawyers and investigators descended on the campus like the plague, to the point the University President quit backing the man who put the school on the map.
What happened in Las Vegas would not stay in Las Vegas, at least in the basketball world. He became a pariah in the industry he helped build, though the city would never forget him, and he never forgave NCAA law enforcement..
There were 131-point games with Loyola Marymount, stunning wins in the tourney against Duke and Arizona. But there were also arrests for guns, drugs, photo-ops in hot tubs with convicted criminals, robberies, a beating death, and then allegations of point shaving scandals at two schools.
The NCAA probes were legendary, the court cases expensive, the victories and the losses stunning, the reputations forever tainted.
He took a place jokingly referred to as “Tumbleweed Tech” and made UNLV a destination point for basketball, just like its casinos were a destination point for vacationers.
There’s no doubt history should write fondly of all the things Jerry Tarkanian did to help down and out players. Of course that history has to include all the academic, social and rules violations he allowed to take place on his watch, he obviously looking the other way.
The Memorial service in Las Vegas will be like a state funeral. But then again Nevada is unlike any other state there is.
Jerry Tarkanian, a father figure to so many players, a Godfather figure though when it came to right-vs-wrong, in the eyes of college athletics.
Conflicted for sure about what he accomplished, but what he also represented in life, and now in death..