One of college basketball’s most storied coaching rivalries — Lute Olson and Jerry Tarkanian — apparently has transitioned into a friendship and respectful grace for the other’s career.
The two Hall of Fame coaches were pictured together at the Final Four smiling with Olson’s hands on the shoulders of Tarkanian, who was sitting in a wheelchair. Tarkanian’s son, Danny Tarkanian, took the picture and Tweeted: “People in Tucson and Vegas wouldn’t believe this photo op #FinalFour”
The photograph is a welcomed sight of mutual respect between Olson and Tarkanian, two of the most successful coaches in the western part of the U.S. who share what can be termed a bitter past.
Tarkanian is the one who dubbed Olson “Midnight Lute” after Olson 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 Tarkanian and Olson in a 1988 article.
During Tarkanian’s Hall of Fame speech last September, he made it clear that he wanted to bury the hatchet with Olson and others who competed against him during his career.
“Sure we can be fiery and competitive, even argumentative, but we all loved the game,” Tarkanian said in a speech read by his wife Lois because of his deteriorating health. “That special game of basketball. Deep down, we’ll understand the other. Thank you for your friendship.”
Olson evidently has let bygones be bygones, including UNLV taking the liberty to sign a basketball that was displayed in the Arizona locker room when the Running Rebels played in the NCAA tournament at McKale Center in 1991.
“It was one of those fun things that adds to the mystique of the rivalry,” UNLV coach Dave Rice, who signed the ball as part of the Running Rebels’ team that year, told the Las Vegas Sun in December.
Arizona and UNLV are in the midst of a four-game home-and-home series. The Wildcats beat UNLV in Tucson this season. They play at Thomas & Mack in Las Vegas next season. It would be nice to see Olson and Tarkanian together again for that game.
I wonder if Olson and Bobby Knight will ever make amends?