For UNC and UNLV basketball fans and alumni, heavy hearts were the theme of the week as two of the most famous coaches in college basketball history passed away. Former UNC basketball coach Dean Smith died on Feb. 7 at the age of 83. Four days later, former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian bid his farewell. Tarkanian was 84-years old.
A native of Emporia, Kansas, Smith attended the University of Kansas and played for the school’s basketball team. He helped lead the Jayhawks to a victory in the NCAA championship in 1952. Following his graduation, Smith stayed at Kansas to become an assistant coach, under legendary coach Phog Allen. He possessed that role at the Air Force Academy and UNC. When he became the head coach at North Carolina, he made a name for himself.
From 1961-1997, Smith engineered a lot of success in Chapel Hill. Under his tutelage, the Tar Heels won 17 ACC Regular Season Championships, 13 ACC Tournament Championships, 11 NCAA Regional Championships, and a pair of NCAA Championships. Smith added to his resume with individual awards. He was voted as the ACC Coach of the Year nine times. He was also voted as the National Coach of the Year four times.
Smith compiled a head coaching record of 879-254. In 1983, Smith was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. It wasn’t until 2006 when he was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame.
On Wednesday, more emotion was poured out following Jerry Tarkanian’s death. Unlike Smith, Tarkanian came from a different background. He was born to Armenian immigrants in Euclid, Ohio.
Rather than staying in his home state to play college ball, Tarkanian played two seasons at Fresno State. Following his playing career, Tarkanian decided to go into coaching. He gained head coaching experience at the high school and community college levels. From 1968-1973, he was the head coach for Long Beach State. The same year he left Long Beach, Tarkanian brought his experience to Las Vegas.
Tarkanian became the head coach of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, a position he held until 1992. During his tenure at UNLV, Tarkanian led the Runnin’ Rebels to a record of 307-42. He also led them to four Regional Championships in the NCAA tournament. In 1990, the school claimed its first National Championship under his guidance. When Tarkanian officially retired in 2002, his overall record included 706 wins and 198 losses.
Like Smith, Tarkanian has his name cemented within the corridors of the College Basketball Hall of Fame. He was inducted in 2013. Both of these men had a lot in common. They coached great teams, mentored great players, and obtained winning resumes. Those resumes eventually resulted into National Championships. When they coached, they became the faces of their schools because of their overall accomplishments.
In sports, there are heroes, champions and individual icons. Heroes rise up and make their mark, champions get the job done when the games on the line and individual icons do everything they can to make the people around them better. Those traits exemplified what Dean Smith and Jerry Tarkanian were all about. Although they are no longer with us, the memories that they provided for college hoops fans will never be forgotten.