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Former Fresno State Star Chris Herren Shares Memories Of Jerry Tarkanian

Tarkanian.jpg
Fresno State Athletic Department
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Former Fresno State basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian died on Wednesday at age 84.

On Wednesday former Fresno State men’s basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian died at age 84. The man affectionately known as “Tark the Shark” was one of the winningest coaches in the history of college hoops and won the 1990 national championship while at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. But he was also a source of near constant controversy, thanks to frequent run-ins with the NCAA during three coaching stints at Long Beach State, UNLV and at finally at Fresno State, his alma mater.

Tarkanian was known for recruiting talented players that many bigger schools overlooked, either due to bad grades or personal problems. While he liked to say he gave young men second chances, many critics maintained that Tarkanian ran afoul of the NCAA’s rules, claims which eventually led to his departure from both UNLV and Fresno State. Finally in 2013 after years of rejection that many attributed to his controversial past, Tarkanian was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

One of the players given a second chance by Tarkanian was Chris Herren, a star guard for the Bulldogs from 1996 through 1999. Herren, who eventually wound up playing in the NBA for the Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics struggled with substance abuse problems during both his collegiate and professional career, before turning his life around in recent years. He spoke with us earlier today about the life and legacy of one of Fresno’s most beloved sports figures:

If you had to describe coach Tarkanian to someone who had never met him, or never watched one of his games, how would you describe the man?

Compassionate, empathetic, understand, a friend that will always be at your side at your worst moments and your best moments. Not many people have those qualities. That was thing about coach, he was truly on your side on your worst day and on your best day he left you have it, and that says a lot. 

Did you realize at the time what a big role he played in your life?

You know, I didn’t appreciate as much as I should have the mark he was leaving on my life. He tried so hard to fix it, he tried so hard to help me with what I was going through. It didn’t translate at Fresno, but it sure did later in life and I told him that many times, that his legacy for me is way bigger than the wins we that experienced together.

When you talk to his former players, they all have this fierce loyalty for him. Why do you think that is?

Because I think they understood we had something unique. We had a college coach that wasn’t afraid to help. We had a college coach who was going to stand by our side through our tough moments. Not many kids had that. Not many college athletes can say for sure that their coach will never leave their side and we had that with him, and we had that from the community in Fresno.

Just from the pure basketball side, a lot of people think back about his teams at Long Beach State, UNLV and Fresno State, and they think of the offensive side of his game, the high scoring, the uptempo play, but defensively, he also had a big role there, and his ideas there. Can you talk about his legacy on the basketball side?

There was much more emphasis on defense than there was offense. And that’s what people didn’t really understand about coach Tark, that it was defense first. The defense would translate into our offense. He was a blue collar guy, and I think that’s why Fresno, Vegas and Long Beach, why they embraced him, because it’s blue collar communities where people believe in hard work, and coach Tark worked his butt off when he was at Fresno. And that’s something I witnessed firsthand and it’s something that I learned through him, what it takes to get where you want to go, and he got me there. Not too many kids my size make it to the NBA and I was there because of him. 

Joe Moore is the President and General Manager of Valley Public Radio. During his tenure, he's helped lead the station through major programming changes and the COVID-19 pandemic, while maintaining the station's financial health. From 2010-2018 he served as the station's Director of Program Content. In that role, he also served as the host of Valley Edition, and helped launch and grow the station's award-winning local news department. He is a Fresno native and a graduate of California State University, Fresno.