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September 18, 2014

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Tark’s fight with NCAA finally over

Ex- Rebels coach Jerry Tarkanian, 71, will step down as Fresno State's coach today. Here is a look back on Tarkanian's illustrious record at UNLV:

x-NCAA Final Four y-NCAA champion

Tark's UNLV milestones

First win -- Dec. 6, 1973, d. Stetson 66-50

100th win -- March 18, 1977, d. Utah 88-83

200th win -- Feb. 26, 1982, d. New Mexico 100-68

300th win -- Jan. 4, 1986, d. San Jose State 106-80

400th win -- Feb. 6, 1989, d. UC-Santa Barbara 77-61

500th win -- Jan. 25, 1992, d. New Mexico State 74-67

Jerry Tarkanian's 19-year tenure as UNLV's basketball coach attracted as much attention in court as on the court.

Tarkanian was at Fresno State and long gone from UNLV in April 1998 when he ended a lengthy legal battle with the NCAA.

The NCAA agreed to pay the colorful coach $2.5 million to settle a lawsuit alleging the organization had tried for two decades to drive him from college basketball.

"Even though I won $2.5 million, it wasn't worth it," Tarkanian said this morning in a telephone conversation from Fresno. "The NCAA is so unfair and so vindictive. They never let up. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't fight them. It was a nightmare."

Tarkanian's longtime Las Vegas lawyer, Chuck Thompson, said the $2.5 million settlement was an admission on the part of the NCAA that it "hounded" the coach throughout his career.

"I call it the NCAA's 2.5 million apologies," Thompson said. Several years earlier Tarkanian also settled a separate lawsuit against top UNLV administrators he accused of conspiring with the NCAA to force his 1992 resignation, just two years after he had won the national championship.

Tarkanian attributed his downfall at UNLV to a bitter rift with then President Bob Maxson, whom he charged went behind his back to help the NCAA dig up dirt on his basketball program. The rift, which attracted national attention, split apart the community and forced wealthy university donors to choose sides.

Through it all Tarkanian compiled one of the winningest records in the history of college basketball.

"He's an incredible personality," said Brad Rothermel, UNLV's athletic director from 1981 to 1991. "On the one hand, he could have this ongoing battle with the NCAA and the institution's administration, and on the other hand be winning at an unprecedented level."

Thompson said history will remember the coach more for the basketball glory he brought to UNLV than his off the court problems.

"Jerry was a fighter, and his teams exemplified that on the court," Thompson said.

Tarkanian arrived in Las Vegas under an NCAA cloud for alleged recruiting violations at Long Beach State. At the time he was openly critical of the organization's investigative methods.

Eventually, Tarkanian's troubles with the NCAA followed him to UNLV.

In 1977, as Tarkanian was starting to turn UNLV into a basketball powerhouse in the West, the NCAA put the university on two years probation for rules infractions and ordered it to suspend Tarkanian.

But the coach went to District Court and obtained an injunction barring UNLV from taking action against him. Eventually the injunction was extended to to the NCAA and was upheld by the Nevada Supreme Court, which concluded the NCAA violated Tarkanian's due process rights.

By 1988, however, the NCAA persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the injunction, and two years later after winning the national championship in Denver in 1990, Tarkanian and the NCAA settled their differences and the suspension order was lifted.

But Tarkanian's troubles were far from over.

By December 1990 the NCAA filed a new round of alleged infractions stemming from the 1986 recruitment of high school standout Lloyd Daniels.

And six months later he announced his resignation after a newspaper published a photo of several of his star players lounging in a hot tub at the home of Richard Perry, a convicted sports fixer.

"Jerry was persecuted unmercifully by the NCAA in many directions," said local businessman Bob Goldberg, a longtime UNLV booster and Tarkanian supporter. "The NCAA always wanted vengeance, and that motivated their constant investigations."

In testimony before a House subcommittee last month, Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., blasted the NCAA over its handling of Tarkanian, who she said had "dared to challenge the awesome power of the NCAA."

Berkley, a university regent when Tarkanian resigned, said she saw firsthand how the NCAA "stopped at nothing" to destroy Tarkanian's coaching career at UNLV.

"Coach Tark won his lawsuit against the NCAA," she said, "but only after years of litigation ... in which the NCAA spent millions of dollars in legal fees -- paid I am certain from the sweat of student athletes."

Tarkanian blamed much of his troubles late in his career at UNLV on Maxson.

He accused the former president of leaking negative stories about his program, helping the NCAA find infractions and even spying on his players.

Maxson left UNLV and took a job as president of Long Beach State in 1994.

Shortly after he left, it was learned that Maxson had arranged to pay Tarkanian's successor, Rollie Massimino, $375,000 a year in private funds besides his $511,000 public compensation package approved by the Board of Regents.

The Nevada Ethics Commission concluded that the secret deal violated ethics laws, and it criticized Maxson for misleading regents about the secret contract.

Massimino later resigned amid the scandal.

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