LAS VEGAS (AP) — He chewed towels courtside, as his teams chewed through opponents. Jerry Tarkanian had a style unlike any other coach, and in the bright lights of Las Vegas his Runnin’ Rebels were the biggest stars of all.
Some things to remember about the basketball coach who turned UNLV into a national brand:
THE TOWEL: Tarkanian was known for chewing on towels during games, a habit that began while he was coaching in sweltering high school gyms in California and he needed the moisture. He would later alternate between dry and wet towels, both folded beneath his courtside chair by an assistant, though in later years the towels became more of a superstition than anything. He is depicted holding a towel to his lips in a statue erected in his honor outside the UNLV campus arena.
THE GAME: Tarkanian’s Runnin’ Rebels were a powerhouse almost from the moment he took over in 1973. But it was in Tarkanian’s third Final Four in 1990 where he finally won his only national championship, and what a win it was. UNLV nearly ran Duke out of the building in the final, winning 103-73 in a game that wasn’t even as close as the lopsided score indicated. After the game, Tarkanian wept tears of joy.
THE TEAM: If the Runnin’ Rebels were good in their championship year, they were even better the next season. Behind Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony, UNLV was undefeated in 34 games that year heading into the national semifinal in Indianapolis against Duke. This time it was Duke prevailing 79-77 in a huge upset that wasn’t decided until a missed shot by UNLV’s Anderson Hunt in the final seconds.
THE FIGHT: Tarkanian was in a constant battle with the NCAA, which put Long Beach State on probation after he left for UNLV and soon had the Runnin’ Rebels in line as targets, too, of several probations. He ended up beating the NCAA in the end, collecting a $2.5 million settlement after suing the organization for trying to run him out of college basketball. But he remained bitter about the way the NCAA treated him while coaching.
THE HONOR: Despite a 509-105 record in 19 seasons at UNLV, a national championship and four Final Fours it took until 2013 for Tarkanian to be elected to the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, an honor his fellow coaches argued for years was long overdue. Though hospitalized that year for heart problems and weakened by a variety of ills, he went on stage with a walker at the induction ceremony.
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