Arizona Basketball

Jerry Tarkanian’s Hall of Fame speech could have rivalry with Lute Olson in mind

Jerry Tarkanian’s deteriorating health prevented him from speaking in front of the crowd yesterday at the Hall of Fame ceremony at Springfield, Mass., but he taped a message recently that could be heard from Las Vegas to Tucson.

Jerry Tarkanian was 8-4 against Arizona as UNLV's head coach

Jerry Tarkanian was 8-4 against Arizona as UNLV’s head coach

Lute Olson was 2-4 against UNLV as Arizona's head coach

Lute Olson was 2-4 against UNLV as Arizona’s head coach

One of Tarkanian’s most significant rivals was Lute Olson, Arizona’s Hall of Fame coach. Tarkanian is the one who dubbed Olson “Midnight Lute” after the legendary UA coach managed to sign Tom Tolbert out of junior college in 1986 after Tolbert verbally committed to UNLV.

Tarkanian’s controversial history with Olson dates to when Olson succeeded Tarkanian at Long Beach State in 1973 only to inherit a program placed on NCAA probation. Sports Illustrated documented the rift between the two Hall of Fame coaches in a 1988 article.

During the taped speech yesterday, played at the Hall of Fame ceremony, Tarkanian talked about his coaching “comrades” and his “firey and competitve, even argumentative” past with members of the coaching profession.

“I have loved the game of basketball since my earliest memories,” said Tarkanian, with his wife Lois Tarkanian standing near him for support. “Basketball has been good to me. I’ve been able to be comrades with some fine individuals in the coaching profession.

“Sure we can be firey and competitive, even argumentative, but we all loved the game. That special game of basketball. Deep down, we’ll understand the other. Thank you for your friendship. Finally, thank you, Hall of Fame, for giving me a special honor. It means so much to me, to our players, fans, coaches and staff. We are part of you. That makes us very happy and very proud.”

Deep down, we’ll understand the other.

Tarkanian did not name names but Olson’s name came immediately to mind with that statement.

Tarkanian was on the offensive against Olson and Olson’s former Arizona assistants in 2010 despite not having coached against the Wildcats for 20 years.

“People said a lot at our expense,” Tarkanian told Sports Illustrated in a 2010 interview. “The Arizona assistants, they were always telling the parents of our recruits that the mob is going to get your sons or the hookers are going to get your sons if they go to UNLV. We heard it all.”

That followed disparaging comments he made about Olson, Arizona and the Wildcat fans in a “Shark Bytes” blog once published online by The Las Vegas Sun.

In March of 2010, Tarkanian blogged about silencing Arizona’s fans at McKale Center with a win over Georgetown in the 1991 NCAA tournament there.

“Our fans who traveled to the game said they were treated so badly,” Tarkanian wrote. “They would go into restaurants and have a hard time being served. To this day, John Thompson will tell you that was the only time Georgetown got cheered on the road.

“They were always considered the villains because they were a pretty rough and physical team. But when they took the court against us in Arizona, they received a standing ovation. You could say we got the last laugh. We beat Georgetown and advanced to the Final Four. And our players left a gift for Arizona’s players. We were assigned the Arizona locker room, which had this big basketball decoration inside it in with Arizona’s logos and colors. Well, our guys shouldn’t have done this, but they each autographed the ball after we won.”

Tarkanian wrote in another blog that UNLV would have defeated Duke for the 1990-91 national title if it had former UA guard Matt Othick, a Las Vegas resident who attended Bishop Gorman. Olson managed to snag Othick.

Lute Olson's feud with UNLV and Jerry Tarkanian made headlines nationally, including this one in the Prescott Courier

Lute Olson’s feud with UNLV and Jerry Tarkanian made headlines nationally, including this one in the Prescott Courier

Tarkanian’s lead paragraph of the blog: “Matt Othick would have played much better for us at UNLV than he did for Arizona.”

In December 2008, Tarkanian wrote a couple of blogs titled, “Beating Arizona, Part I” and “Beating Arizona, Part II”. In the first blog, he writes that beating Arizona and Sean Elliott in the 1989 Sweet 16 was one of the greatest victories he enjoyed. An excerpt:

“I was so happy. It was one of my favorite victories, because it was Arizona. We wanted to beat Arizona bad because of earlier in the year, the way they celebrated on that floor (after beating UNLV 86-75 in Tucson). Our players went nuts in the locker room. We went back to the hotel and celebrated all night. A bunch of our boosters went to the airport the next day to see Arizona go home. People were drinking and yelling, Arizona go home! Arizona go home!”

Olson pulled the plug on Arizona facing UNLV in the regular season after the Wildcats lost 95-87 in Las Vegas in 1990. Following that game, Olson commented that UNLV guard Anderson Hunt cursed at him and his staff after diving for a loose ball near the UA bench. Hunt denied cursing at Olson and claimed it was Olson who swore at him as he walked back to the court.

“This is the last year of the series,” Olson told reporters. “It is not in the plans to play them again. I just don’t think it’s a series we’ll continue.

“I don’t have to indicate what my reasons are.”

The Wildcats went 16 years without playing UNLV until Olson broke the ban, scheduling a four-year home-and-home series in 2006 with UNLV, which had Lon Kruger in charge at the time. Arizona and UNLV will begin another four-year home-and-home this season starting with the Rebels visiting McKale Center.

The UA is 6-11 overall against UNLV and 4-8 against Tarkanian, who had intense battles with Fred Snowden in the 1970s. Tarkanian and Snowden each won three games against each other. Tark beat Ben Lindsey’s lone UA team in 1982. He was 4-1 against Olson’s teams.

Here are the Top Five games involving Tarkanian’s UNLV program and Arizona:

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