They call him "The Shark." Jerry Tarkanian is the winningest college basketball coach on record, but he's better known for being accused of bending and abusing NCAA rules while coaching at UNLV (University of Nevada at Las Vegas), a cloud that followed him to his current job at Fresno State. Like Bobby Knight, he's become a symbol of the controversy surrounding college basketball programs.

Born in 1930, Tarkanian holds the highest winning percentage of any college basketball coach, with a record around .800. He got his start with Long Beach State in 1968, where he first ran afoul of the NCAA. An investigation began in October 1972, but before it could be completed, Tarkanian had departed for UNLV, starting work, there in March 1973.

UNLV
Under Tarkanian, UNLV became a perennial in the NCAA Tournament, reaching the Final Four 4 times and winning the national crown once, in 1990.

It was also at UNLV that Tarkanian became villainized for alleged violations with the basketball program. In 1974, a year after Tarkanian had left, Long Beach State was put on probation by the NCAA, meaning its TV appearances and scholarships were limited.

By then, the NCAA was well underway with an investigation into alleged recruiting violations in multiple sports at UNLV, and the hammer came down in 1977. UNLV got two years of probation -- limiting the school's TV appearances and removing its teams from postseason play -- and the NCAA ordered the school to suspend Tarkanian as well. Tarkanian fought that ruling and also filed a lawsuit of his own, claiming the NCAA had conducted a vendetta against him.

In 1992, he filed a new suit against the NCAA, accusing the organization of faking the evidence against him in an attempt to drive him from coaching. In 1998, that suit would be settled in Tarkanian's favor, with the NCAA paying him $2.5 million without admitting guilt.

Aside from the NCAA flap, allegations of point shaving and other ties to gamblers would plague Tarkanian during his entire tenure at UNLV. He would continue to accuse the NCAA of trying to drive him to quit.

The pros
Tarkanian did indeed quit UNLV in 1992, recording a 26-2 record in his final season. He tried his hand at the NBA but lasted only 20 games with the San Antonio Spurs and got fired with a 9-11 record.

Fresno State brought Tarkanian out of retirement in 1995, hoping to perk up its baskeball program. It happens to be Tark's alma mater, so he accepted -- to no small amount of controversy -- and began the process of turning Fresno into a powerhouse.

Fresno State
Slowly but surely, it worked. Fresno State made the NCAA Tournament in 2000 and 2001. They lost in the 2nd round in 2001, defeating UC Berkeley only to be slapped by Michigan State, 81-65.

But Fresno State saw the same old questions raised about Tarkanian's program. In 1997, the university came under investigation in a point-shaving scandal. Worse, Tarkanian had chosen the 1997-1998 season to recruit troubled and "at-risk" youths, hoping to turn their lives around while honing their athletic talents. It was bad enough that the kids got into trouble -- several arrests, one a domestic violence case, another involving assault with a samurai sword -- but this also happened to be the season that Tarkanian allowed a camera crew to follow him everywhere, documenting a year in the life of a college basketball coach.

Most accounts say that the resulting two-hour documentary, "Between the Madness," painted a fair picture of Tarkanian as a caring coach who was disappointed to see his players betray his faith. It likewise fairly displayed what a shambles he made of NCAA ethics and university principles.

The Present.
Tarkanian's program continues to draw controversy. At the end of the 2000-'01 season, it was revealed that scholarship recipient Dennis Nathan was a convicted drug dealer. If Tarkanian and other Fresno State officials knew about his conviction, then the scholarship was a violation of Fresno State's recruiting restrictions. It's not an NCAA violation, but it's an embarrassment for a school whose basketball program was plagued with drug problems in recent years.

Tarkanian is sometimes cited as an example of what's wrong with college sports, but I think the problems stem from a different direction. Take the Nathan case: Considering Fresno's conservative populace (gung ho for the "War on Drugs"), you'd think there'd be an outrage. But like lots of small conservative towns, Fresno worships its college atheletes at any cost. When the Nathan debacle broke, they didn't blame Tarkanian; they criticized the local paper for printing the story. That's what's wrong with college sports.

Other details: Birthday: Aug. 30. Hairstyle: bald. Very proud of his Armenian heritage, and I get the impression he's active in the Armenian community. Famous for chewing a towel during stressful moments (cheap shot alert: beats the hell out of choking students).

Sources:
-- Info Please (http://www.infoplease.com/ipsa/A0109689.html)
-- Official Tarkanian Web Site (http://www.tarkanian.com)
-- Fresno Bee, esp. http://www.fresnobee.com/print/storywacsports/0,1916,211859.html,00.html
-- Las Vegas Review Journal, esp. http://www.lvrj.com/lvrj_home/1997/Jun-01-Sun-1997/sports/5463676.html
-- Las Vegas Review Journal "100 People Who Shaped Southern Nevada" (http://www.1st100.com/part3/tarkanian.html)
-- AP report on point shaving: http://archive.nandotimes.com/newsroom/ap/bkb/1997/col/wat/feat/archive/031197/wat27146.html
-- KSFR (Fresno State): http://www.csufresno.edu/kfsr/Sports_nathan_scandal.html
-- Fresno State basketball fan's site: http://www.csufresno.edu/

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