He is obviously much more of a candidate from the college ranks, but Jerry Tarkanian did have the cameo as coach of the Spurs at the start of 1992-93. It lasted all of 20 games before being fired by Red McCombs amid a conflict over the roster and Tarkanian’s struggles in transitioning to the pro rules. So there is an NBA connection, however brief and forgettable.
Tarkanian is, at the very least, deserving of serious discussion for the Hall of Fame by any classification. He has returned to the ballot for the Class of 2013 after being removed due to a lack of support, which is noteworthy enough, except that the new chance also comes as the 82-year-old Tark struggles with his health. That has created a renewed emotional push from his many backers.
Election obviously won’t be easy, as underlined by previous failed attempts. A maximum of 10 of the 31 nominees in the North American Committee, the panel that judges most with NBA and NCAA backgrounds, will be announced as finalists at All-Star weekend next month in Houston, before another group of anonymous voters chooses the inductees. Those winners will be revealed at the Final Four in April in Atlanta.
Tarkanian has one national title, four trips to the Final Four and a .790 winning percentage in Division I to his credit. He also has the long, much-publicized history of meeting the NCAA at high noon through the years. Given the NCAA’s track record, that doesn’t necessarily make him wrong, and Tark was vindicated when the governing body paid him a $2.5 million settlement in 1998, but some Hall voters come from the college sector. They possibly even come from the NCAA itself. And even if the judges don’t come from the national body, there could be disapproval of the way Tarkanian ran his programs at Long Beach State, UNLV and Fresno State.
Setting a toe inside the NBA is nothing more than a blip by now. Tarkanian had gone to San Antonio after 19 seasons in Las Vegas and the winningest coach in Division I by percentage (.836), only to start 9-11. The Spurs were hampered by injuries — Terry Cummings, Willie Anderson — but Tarkanian chipped away at whatever patience McCombs may have had by publicly criticizing management for failing to deliver an upgrade from Vinny Del Negro at point guard.
John Lucas, another bold hire, took over in San Antonio. Tarkanian became coach at Fresno State, his alma mater, in 1995, and led the Bulldogs to six consecutive 20-win seasons before retiring in 2002. The program was later put on probation for violations committed while Tarkanian was coach.