Jerry Tarkanian never made the transition from the college game to the pro game.
When the San Antonio Spurs hired Jerry Tarkanian April 15, it seemed to be a perfect fit for several reasons.
Tarkanian promised to continue the Spurs' run-and-gun tradition.His outlaw image was welcomed by a city that has reveled in a rough-and-tumble cowboy image, and by a sassy franchise that colored itself black and silver.
And Tarkanian was a big name, someone who could help the fans forget the craziness that led to the firing of Larry Brown, the most successful coach in Spurs history.
Tarkanian badly wanted the job. He practically begged Spurs Owner B.J. ``Red' McCombs to hire him, calling him constantly. He had friends, including University of Texas Coach Tom Penders - who also is a good friend of McCombs - campaign for him. When he got the job, it was obvious that if he was as diligent in coaching the Spurs as he had been in seeking the job, he would do fine.
But Tarkanian wasn't diligent, and that was the reason he failed. Tarkanian's approach to the NBA was either arrogant, ignorant, or both. He did not even try to make the transition.
After Tarkanian was hired, he watched a playoff game with some reporters. The Seattle SuperSonics were playing. One Sonic was playing great, hitting long shots from all over the court. Tarkanian asked who it was. It was Eddie Johnson, an 11-year veteran. Tarkanian said he had never heard of him.
When training camp started, Tarkanian praised the play of point guards Vinny Del Negro and Lloyd Daniels. But his assistants told him the two looked good only against each other. Wait until they had to play Derek Harper, they told him. Tarkanian said he had never seen Harper, a nine-year veteran, play.
Not knowing the league is not a crime. Not trying to learn about it, though, is. Tarkanian had the entire offseason to prepare but did not. He did not learn the rules, or the players, or the strategies. More often than not, he refused to watch game tapes or study scouting reports.
When the season began, he discovered that Harper and John Stockton and Tim Hardaway were pretty good and Del Negro and Daniels were lacking. At that point, he began criticizing McCombs not only in off-the-record conversations with reporters but to his players. Tarkanian began treating McCombs with disdain - almost as if McCombs were the president of UNLV and was out to get him by not getting him a point guard.
The Spurs made huge personnel errors in recent years. They also were hurt by injuries to Terry Cummings and Willie Anderson. But Tarkanian was under the impression that all McCombs had to do to get a point guard was snap his fingers. He didn't understand the salary cap or that other teams did not want to trade a point guard to the Spurs. He did not understand because he did not try to understand.
Tarkanian had physical problems: high blood pressure and chest pains. Last week he said he might not coach longer than one season, which did not exactly endear him to the owner. That hardly demonstrates a commitment.
McCombs was backed into a corner, and he's not the type to stand there quietly. He fired Tarkanian, even though $1.3 million remained on his contract. That is a great payoff for Tarkanian, who didn't expend a lot of effort in securing, in effect, a nice pension.
Perhaps it was unrealistic to expect the 62-year-old Tarkanian to make the drastic transition from college to pro ball. But it was not unrealistic to expect him to at least try. Tarkanian did not fail in San Antonio because he is a bad coach. The record obviously indicates he is not.
No, Tarkanian failed because he simply did not have the work ethic to succeed in the NBA.