By Charles Nazarian
Success has not spoiled Jerry Tarkanian, head basketball coach of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Tarkanian was honored as the “winningest coach in America” after his team captured the 1990 National Collegiate Athletic Association championship trophy a few weeks ago by crushing Duke University, 103 to 73, for the title.
Tarkanian has concluded his 17th season at UNLV and battled the NCAA for 12 of them narrowly missing the title on several occasions. When asked if the victory was sweet revenge, Tarkanian quipped: “it wasn’t revenge, but it was sweet.” When the time came for presentation of the championship trophy, Tarkanian was reluctant to accept it. He wantd Brad Rothermel, UNLV athletic director, to accept the trophy, but relented when NCAA officials persisted. Tarkanian’s reaction to praise best describes his humble, unassuming attitude in the limelight of success.
Our AIM staff help an exclusive interview with Tarkanian in the men’s gymnasium of Pasadena City College shortly after he won the title. He had come for a reunion with colleagues and friends at the college where he was the head basketball coach in 1966-68.
Born in Euclid, Ohio, Aug. 30, 1930, Tarkanian graduated from Fresno (Calif.) State University in 1955 and began coaching high school basketball teams in 1956. His 29 years of collegiate coaching endeared him to teams he has coached at colleges throughout Southern California before becoming head coach of UNLV in 1973.
His wife, Dr. Lois Tarjabuab (the former Lois Huter) serves on the Clark Country (Nev.) School Board. They have four children: Pamela, Jodie, Danny and George. Pamela is a teacher; Jodie is a nurse; Danny is an attorney and George is in a doctoral program in political science.
Tarkanian’s brother, Myron, also was present at the interview with AIM’S staff Myron is a physical education teacher and tennis coach at Pasadena City College. He is nine years younger than Jerry. His wife is the former Virginia Fagerlin and they have four children: William, Rose, Jane and Kendra.
Despite his achievements on the basketball court, Tarkanian’s contributions to the Armenian and American communities are little known due to his low-key profile and unassuming character. Most recently, he was honored as Man of the Year by the Last Vegas Kidney Foundation and similarly recognized by Southwestern Christian College. He also conducts basketball camps for youngsters as well as being an active member of several charitable organizations.
When asked about his activities in the Armenian community, Tarkanian said: “I have always accepted invitations to address Armenian groups whenever my schedule permitted.” He said he did speak Armenian when he way very young because his parents insisted on it in their home. I have forgotten the language, but I’m proud of my Armenian heritage, he said.
During a nationally televised basketball game the day after the tragic earthquake in Armenia, Tarkanian was seen wearing a black band in mourning for the thousands of victims.
Tarkanian is respected by the news media as a “classy” coach. “Sure, Tark no doubt kicks a few butts and has a few choice words for his players in the dressing room,” commented one sportscaster, “but he does it behind closed doors instead of in front of a national television audience.”
Would Tarkanian consider taking his basketball team to Armenia for a goodwill or benefit game? Tarkanian said NCAA rules allow only one trip abroad every four years and a transatlantic trip has never been discussed. However, a goodwill trip to Armenia is within the realm of possibilities, he added.
Tarkanian makes his home on the basketball court. He is both father and teacher to him “Runnin’ Rebels” team, preaching the virtues of hard work, loyalty and discipline. His wife, Dr. Lois Tarkanian, has been of valuable assistance to the team by establishing an academic support system that is among the finest and most progressive in America.
Another Armenian in the UNLV athletic department is ED Goorjian, a close friend of Tarkanian, who is an administrative assistant to athletic director Brad Rothermel. He directs off-court activities of the basketball team, including academic assignments and team travel. A 1951 graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, Goorjian has served with distinction as basketball coach of high school and college teams throughout Southern California.