LAS VEGAS (AP) — He couldn’t stop fighting the NCAA any more than he could give up chewing towels courtside. Jerry Tarkanian built a basketball dynasty in the desert, but it was his decades-long battle with the NCAA that defined him far more than the wins and losses.
The coach who won a national title at UNLV and made the school synonymous with basketball died Wednesday after several years of health issues. He was 84.
Tarkanian put the run in the Runnin’ Rebels, taking them to four Final Fours and winning a national championship in 1990 with one of the most dominant college teams ever. His teams were as flamboyant as the city, with light shows and fireworks for pregame introductions and celebrities jockeying for position on the so-called Gucci Row courtside.
He ended up beating the NCAA, too, collecting a $2.5 million settlement after suing the organization for trying to run him out of college basketball. But he was bitter to the end about the way the NCAA treated him while coaching.
“They’ve been my tormentors my whole life,” Tarkanian said at his retirement news conference in 2002. “It will never stop.”
The night before he died, fans attending UNLV’s game against Fresno State draped towels over the statue of Tarkanian outside the campus arena that depicts Tarkanian chewing on one of his famous towels.