We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Danny Tarkanian, Nevada businessman, politician and now author, about his book “Rebel with a Cause.” Tarkanian is aiming to set the record straight about his iconic father and Hall of Fame coach, the one and only, Jerry Tarkanian.
As one of the winningest coaches in NCAA basketball history, “Tark the Shark” was a Division I head coach for 31 seasons, across five decades at three different schools. He never had a losing season and won at least 20 games on 29 occasions. He ended up with 19 and 16 victories, the two years he failed to win 20.
Tarkanian’s NCAA record of 729-201, included four Final Four trips, while at UNLV and of course the 1990 national championship, leading the Rebels to a 30 point dismantling of the Duke Blue Devils.
Only toward the end of his UNLV tenure did Tarkanian start to successfully recruit big-name high school players. More often than not, he won with junior college players, transfers and players who were seeking a second chance on the basketball court and off the court.
Besides his rivalries with other opposing schools, Tarkanian fiercest battle was with the NCAA. For decades, Tark vs. the NCAA was one of the great rivalries in sports history. In the end, Tark won, both in a court of law (through an out of court settlement) and also in the court of public opinion.
Enjoy, part one of our series with Danny Tarkanian, as he discusses the process of completing “Rebel with a Cause,” along with providing a preview of the book.
(STS) Could you speak about your interest and passion about writing “Rebel with a Cause”?
Tarkanian: “Sure, as I mention in the book I have been a big part of my dad’s career starting when I was just a ball-boy, to being a former player of his and later an assistant coach. I was also his attorney, as he battled the NCAA. I watched firsthand how his career was distorted and misrepresented by many of the national media people that didn’t truly know him.
Unfortunately, they just took the word of what others were putting out there. I felt after my dad retired and then later on when he got pretty ill, I said to him ‘you know we need to set the record straight.’
I have spent a lot of time on this book. I didn’t just do it in a year or two. It took me several years, as I didn’t want to have personal emotion and bias come across in the book.
I didn’t want people to look at it and say I was just saying certain things, since I’m (Jerry’s) his son. When fans and people read the book, there are stories and information based on factual documentation, whether it was newspaper articles or court documents. I have also included investigative interviews and of course different personal experiences of what I actually saw.
I just want people to understand the type of person he was. My dad was a really good people person. He was able to relate to the impoverished African American athletes that were dominating sports at that time, to his colleagues in the coaching profession, along with the school boosters, but even more important the everyday fans.
My father could relate to the one person that could be seen as a little bit annoying, or bothersome to a lot of other coaches. He truly loved to be around them and have a couple drinks and tell stories.”
(STS) How long did it take for you to complete the entire book?
Tarkanian: “I was writing off and on for over 10 years, as I stopped during a couple of political campaigns. The big thing that helped my research efforts, was my mother Lois, kept detailed scrapbooks of my father’s career. They began from the very first year my father began coaching at Riverside CC High School, to his very last year coaching job at Fresno St. She has easily 45 to 50 scrapbooks that are just filled with newspaper articles. I went through every one of them.
It was something that was very important to me and I had the time to do it. I went through every article and took out the ones that I believed would be entertaining for the reader. I also wanted to share a few things that some fans may not have heard over the years. This part of the process took the longest time.”
(STS) In your opinion, what was the biggest misconception about your father as a basketball coach?
Tarkanian: “As a coach, it would have to be the label that he was just an offensive guru. That his players would simply run up and down the court, take quick shots and that is why his teams scored so many points.
Every coach in the profession and the knowledgeable reporters out there knew that my father was an absolute genius in respect to coaching defense. That was his strength and playing good defense created his offense.
I included in the book, quotes from two of the greatest coaches of all-time, John Wooden from UCLA and Mike Krzyzewski from Duke. In my dad’s third year at Long Beach State, he lost to UCLA by two points in the NCAA West Regional finals in the NCAA tournament. That was the closest game UCLA had in their seven year national championship run. After the game, John Wooden was quoted in a newspaper article stating ‘the zone that the Tarkanian team played was the best he had ever seen and Tarkanian is an absolute genius.’
After UNLV beat Duke by 30 points in the national championship game in 1990, Coach K said, ‘Tarkanian’s pressure man defense was the greatest he had ever played against.’
In the foreword for the book, Coach K wrote that Tarkanian was the greatest defensive coach in college basketball history. When you have recognized coaching legends talk about how great my dad’s teams were defensively, I think it really offsets the narrative some reporters were saying, that my father was just an offensive coach.”
(STS) With all of your dad’s friends, different coaching colleagues and impressive alumni of players, how did you decide on Coach K to write the foreword for Rebel with a Cause?
Tarkanian: “Well because of those epic battles between the two of them, I believed it was only fitting. I thought sports is truly the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Both of the games between UNLV and Duke summarized this cliché. Beginning, with the thrill of the big victory for UNLV in the first matchup in the 1990 NCAA Championship and then the disappointing loss the following year to Duke by 2 points.
Coach K was classy and a gentlemen during both of those matchups and very complimentary of my father. He is considered one of the best, if not the best coach of his time right now. I just called him up one day and asked him if he would be willing to write the foreword and he said he would do so. It was quite an easy process and I’m very thankful for it.”
(STS) Was there any planning or co-relation between the release of the book and the 30th anniversary of your father’s historic victory in the National Championship game?
Tarkanian: “You know actually there wasn’t. There were two things I was looking to accomplish. First, I wanted the book to be really enjoyable for the readers. I didn’t want people saying that I was just writing some bullshit stuff and not believing what I had to say. This is why I took a long time to get it all together.
The second thing is all of the NCAA controversies that are happening now and are being publicized, are things my father complained about when he coached. We had some people and detractors saying at the time, well that is not true, my father is just complaining since you were caught cheating. Presently, some schools are experiencing these types of things, from the Miami FLA investigation, the UCLA investigation and then there is the FBI investigation into college basketball.
Years later, other coaches and individuals are now saying, the things coach Tarkanian was saying 40 years ago are happening at other schools, maybe he was telling the truth. I mean the timing of that part of the book was very important. Unfortunately, I really wanted to be able to wait and have our book release right before March Madness and the one year where it was cancelled, is the year I have the book ready to release it. So it wasn’t really the best timing.”
(STS) How has the initial feedback been from readers and sports fans about your book?
Tarkanian: “I’m getting a great response from different fans and people that have read the book. I’m also receiving positive feedback from another segment of people that I wasn’t sure if they would like it or not. I have never written a book before. I’m appreciative to some of the different people that were onboard to help me make the book a little more readable.
Overall, I’m pleased with the response thus far. It is very important to me for people to read the book and enjoy it, as it is a true indication of my father and his life. I believe this is the best way to get the message out. There has also been some interest in completing a documentary or series from the book too. We are working really hard to get that done and I am very hopeful that it will happen.”
In Part Two, we speak with Danny Tarkanian about his father’s illustrious career at UNLV and get his thoughts on why the Runnin’ Rebels haven’t had the same success since the departure of his father.
Purchase Danny Tarkanian’s book “Rebel with a Cause“.