- The Washington Times - Friday, November 22, 2002

Scandal trailed him like a dorsal fin. The NCAA followed like a half-crazed Roy Scheider. He left an oil spill in his wake, a slimy, Valdez-worthy froth of blowout wins, chewed-up towels and hot tubs swimming with convicted fixers.

Needless to say, the Shark will be missed.

When Jerry Tarkanian retired last spring, college basketball lost more than its fifth-winningest coach of all time. The game bid adieu to its leading iconoclast, a shameless opportunist who shunned sanctimony, skirted the law, ignored the classroom and coached a wildly entertaining brand of ball all while helping link the terms "Fresno State" and "samurai swords" for years to come.

In short, the sort of fellow who makes campus hoops worth watching.

"There's a lot we'll miss [about Tark]," said Kentucky coach Tubby Smith. "We'll miss the chewing of the towel, those eyes. And man, could that guy coach defense."

Forgive us, Father Krzyzewski, for we have sinned: While others laud the coaching saints of the college game the leaders, the educators, the squeaky-clean myth 'n' men-makers we've fallen for the bad guys. The rogues. The renegades. The sort of coaches Mom would have warned us about, had she worked for the NCAA's enforcement division.

Enough with graduation rates, projecting a classy image, abiding by 1,001 recruiting rules. Enough with special, special kids excuse us, scholar-athletes at play. Give us hungry JUCOs and troubled prodigies. Give us temper tantrums, tossed chairs, technical fouls. Give us basketball, straight up, sans the highfalutin chaser.

We've tasted the rotten apple. And frankly, we'd like another. Herein, then, the five reasons to embrace Jim Harrick, Bob Huggins, Bob Knight and the rest of college basketball's black hat brigade:


Honesty

Outside of the student fans, the goofy mascots and the on-campus arenas Georgetown excluded on the last count the college game has little to do with college. And everything to do with hoops.

After all, CBS isn't forking over $6billion to televise geography midterms.

Nevertheless, most coaches at least pay lip service to the notion that the game serves a greater academic purpose. A few even fancy themselves educators which is technically true, provided the education in question revolves around the subtle nuances of the 2-3 zone.

Bad boy coaches, on the other hand, know the score. Listen to Cincinnati's Huggins, who has been bashed repeatedly for his program's low graduation rate.

"Guess what? We had the highest average GPA among Conference USA schools last year," Huggins recently told a Cincinnati newspaper. "Look it up. Do you think anybody wrote about that?"

Doubt it. Fact is, college coaches aren't hired to ensure that their players graduate, any more than chemistry professors are brought in to boost a school's chances of advancing to the NCAA tournament.

To the contrary, sideline suits are expected to win. Early and often. Everything else is a bonus, sometimes literally: Tarkanian recently noted that many of his diploma-less UNLV players ended up with casino jobs that paid better than "the guys with Ph.D.s."

Speaking of money, 17 college coaches earned more than $1million in salary last season, more than 10 times what the average professor makes. That said, some coaches the sort that publish treacle like "Leading from the Heart" and "Lead to Succeed" continue to insist that the sport is more about kids and character than cash and commercialism.

By contrast, the Tarks of the world are delightfully free of pretense. A few years back, the Shark grew melancholy while visiting UNLV's Thomas and Mack Center, an arena he helped build.

According to a report on ESPN.com, Tarkanian pointed to a luxury box, then waxed nostalgic over how he managed to turn a $4,000 profit by subleasing a suite that was given to him by the school.

"Yeah," Tarkanian told reporters with a sigh, "this place is really special."


Opportunity

After four of Georgia's five incoming recruits for this season were deemed ineligible, Harrick's recruiting practices were blasted by the man who hired him, university president Michael Adams.

Of course, the outraged administrator was slightly less indignant last March, when Harrick dubbed the "Lizard of Westwood" during his stint at UCLA led Georgia to the SEC title.

Say this for coaching's Komodo Dragons: Like Jesus, they're not afraid to hang out with the lepers. Or, for that matter, the likes of Lamar Odom.

And for that, the reptiles should be commended.

JUCO mercenaries. Academic risks. Troubled talents. Don't they deserve a second chance? And a third? And sometimes a fourth?

Frankly, it's the American way.

Besides, there are plenty of once-questionable recruits who didn't flunk out or end up on the campus police blotter. Think Allen Iverson. Larry Johnson. Jamaal Tinsley.

"People tend to traffic in stereotypes, and it frustrates me," said Iowa State coach Larry Eustachy, who recruited Tinsley out of junior college. "Hey, I went to junior college myself. Would I have rather played point at UCLA? Sure, but that's not an option for most of us.

"Generally, JC guys tend to be more mature. They've been away from home and on their own already. So they've adjusted to college emotionally. And typically, they're more physically mature as well."

And as for the risks who don't pan out? Hey, sometimes you have to break a few eggs. Or break out a few katanas, depending on the circumstances.

Four years ago, former Fresno State players Avondre Jones and Kenny Brunner were arrested for smacking a fellow student with samurai swords. The incident took place two days after "60 Minutes" aired a critical piece on the Bulldogs.

Later that week, CBS gumshoe Mike Wallace caught up with Tarkanian at Madison Square Garden, where the Bulldogs were playing in the NIT.

"I think the real shame is that Avondre Jones and [Kenny] Brunner showed our story had merit only two days after it aired," Wallace said.

Replied Tark: "That's OK, Mike. We're big on second chances. We're even going to give you a second chance."


Gumption

Far be it from us to call the NCAA a bloated, overbearing, nitpicky bureaucracy whose good intentions are oft for naught. Instead, consider the following statement:

"No college program, including my own, could withstand a thorough NCAA investigation without taking some kind of a fall."

According to former LSU coach Dale Brown, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski said that. And even if the quote is apocryphal, the point remains relevant.

On the NCAA's Web site, for instance, there are approximately 42 pages devoted to recruiting rules. Among the commandments?

Coaches are not allowed to ferry recruits by helicopter. Nor are they permitted to trumpet a recruit's arrival with a rock band.

Then there's the Association's enforcement arm, which apparently takes its marching orders from Ebenezer Scrooge. Just ask Syracuse's Billy Edelin, who recently was suspended for 12 games for playing in an over-40 rec league that wasn't sanctioned by the NCAA.

"I've never seen anything like this in 30 years," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim told reporters last week. "The fairness and compassion to an 18-year-old kid is not there. I would have rather sat 10 games. It's really something. I'm in total disbelief."

As such, we can't help but sympathize with coaches who consider the system something less than sacrosanct. Like, say, Memphis coach John Calipari.

In order to land prized recruit Dajuan Wagner, Calipari offered a scholarship to Arthur Barclay, an unremarkable prospect who just happened to be Wagner's best friend and high school teammate. Calipari also hired Wagner's father, Milt, as an assistant coach even though the elder Wagner lacks a college degree.

"I was concerned about what kind of message that would send," Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson later told The New York Times Magazine. "But I was OK with people saying we got him only because of his son. I think that's part of recruiting, and it's not illegal."

Amen. Besides, it's not like Calipari choppered Wagner to Graceland to see an Elvis impersonator.

According to the NCAA, that would be wrong.


Success

When he wasn't choking players, slapping Puerto Rican policemen, brandishing whips or waging a one-man crusade against sideline folding chairs, Knight led Indiana to three national titles.

In essence, playing his way is what got them there. Apologies to Brian Dennehy.

For his part, Calipari took UMass to the Final Four. Huggins has done the same at Cincinnati. Tarkanian won a championship at UNLV in awe-inspiring fashion and is widely regarded as a defensive genius.

Harrick captured a title at UCLA the Bruins' first since the Wooden era, something the esteemed Larry Brown couldn't manage and later led Rhode Island to the Elite Eight.

Read that again: R-H-O-D-E I-S-L-A-N-D. E-L-I-T-E E-I-G-H-T.

The bottom line? Sinners are winners.


Entertainment

Oscar Wilde once wrote "it is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious." And while we're pretty sure the dandy satirist wasn't talking about Harrick, the sentiment still applies.

Batman vs. the Joker. Sideshow Mel vs. Sideshow Bob. Krzyzewski vs. Tarkanian. Love to hate 'em or hate to love 'em, the rabble-rousers and archvillains of the college game are inherently more entertaining than their vanilla counterparts.

Take Huggins, whose all-black, Darth Vader-esque outfits and physical, intimidating clubs recall nothing so much as the diabolical Cobra Kai dojo "sweep the leg!" from the film "Karate Kid." Or consider Eustachy, who two years ago was booted out of an NCAA regional final following a profane, ref-baiting tirade.

To put it another way: There's basketball, there's theater, and then there's Knight.

"There can't be another Bob Knight," Smith said. "You can't be that way in this business anymore. They want you in a blue or gray suit with your mouth shut."

During its run to the 1990 national title, Tarkanian's UNLV team sported pregame warmup T-shirts with a safety belt graphic on the front and the words "buckle up" on the back.

The implication? Get ready for a wild ride.

"I came in with Nolan [Richardson] and his boots, Guy Lewis and his checkered towel, Wimp Sanderson with that ridiculous coat and Tark," Smith said. "Where are those guys now? Guys like that, to be honest with you, they're one of the things that made this game great."

They still are.


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