LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- On a evening when he could have used one of his world-famous white towels to dab away the tears, an emotional coach Jerry Tarkanian said a reluctant goodbye to UNLV basketball.
The words, of course, didn't come as easily as the Runnin' Rebels' 65-53 victory against Utah State last night at the Thomas & Mack Center. Standing at center court afterward, doused in a spotlight, showered with farewell gifts and the heartfelt applause of 18,944 spectators, Tarkanian was asked to address the first and only sellout crowd of the season.
Much like his recent attempts to keep his job, it was a lost cause.
"I just want to thank everybody for 19 wonderful . . . years," he said, his voice breaking.
And then he started to cry. The same combative man who had defied the NCAA and, at times, ignored its rules; who had fought openly and bitterly with much of the UNLV administrative hierarchy; who had vowed to take legal action if his rescinded resignation wasn't honored . . . was overcome with emotion.
He tried to speak once more. Again he failed.
" I can't talk," he said, walking away from the microphone.
The crowd spoke for him. "Keep Tark, Keep Tark," it chanted.
Tarkanian will eventually leave UNLV -- and it is only a question of when he cleans out his office -- as the all-time winningest coach by percentage (83.7 percent) in the history of Division I basketball. He took the Runnin' Rebels to 12 NCAA Tournaments and four Final Fours. A national championship won in 1990 remains his most cherished accomplishment.
As for this season, the sixth-ranked Rebels, despite the many distractions, finished their schedule 26-2 overall and 18-0 in the Big West Conference. Barring a successful legal challenge, the team will remain ineligible for postseason play because of NCAA sanctions.
But Tarkanian's 24-year career, 19 of which were spent at UNLV, will also be known for its many controversies. His legacy included high drama, as well as appearances in high court. Tarkanian, it seemed, was always battling something or somebody -- the NCAA, UNLV President Robert Maxson, the university regents, other coaches, the legal system.
In keeping with tradition, Tarkanian's final few days as head coach were no different.
Monday, he called for an independent investigation into the Rebels' basketball program, a suggestion that was quickly dismissed by Maxson.
Tarkanian didn't stop there. Whenever questioned about his future plans, a playful Tarkanian said, "I might go to Harvard or Yale, I'm not sure."
UTAH ST. -- Nesmith 4-10 2-2 10, Goodman 1-7 2-2 5, Gentry 1-2 0-0 2, Youngblood 2-9 0-0 5, Hay 7-16 2-4 16, DaSilva 2-9 6-6 10, Dailey 0-0 0-0 0, Wickizer 1-4 3-4 5. Totals 18-57 15-18 53.
UNLV -- Manuel 2-4 3-4 9, Thomas 1-4 0-3 2, Emerzian 0-2 0-0 0, Gray 4-7 1-4 11, Boney 5-11 4-7 14, Spencer 4-7 1-2 9, Waldman 0-0 0-0 0, Rider 6-13 0-1 15, Love 2-5 1-2 5. Totals 24-53 10-23 65.
Halftime--UNLV 29, Utah St. 22. 3-point goals--Utah St. 2-12 (Goodman 1-5, Youngblood 1-5, Nesmith 0-1, Gentry 0-1), UNLV 7-18 (Rider 3-8, Manuel 2-3, Gray 2-4, Emerzian 0-1, Boney 0-2) Fouled out--Spencer. Rebounds--Utah St. 32 (Nesmith 6), UNLV 43 (Gray, Rider 8). Assists--Utah St. 8 (Nesmith 5), UNLV 14 (Thomas 4). Total fouls--Utah St. 22, UNLV 19. A--18,944.