The Shark Attacked
Jerry Tarkanian, succumbing to the Las Vegas heat, says he'll call it quits after next season
In the end, UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, who suffered NCAA slings and Supreme Court arrows, was undone by a home snapshot.
Last Friday, Tarkanian announced that he would retire after the 1991-92 season, forgoing the final year on his contract, which provides for a $204,000 salary, the use of two university cars and 223 season tickets—a package worth close to $600,000. He said he wanted no settlement and that he was only doing "what was best for the university."
His decision came 12 days after publication of a 1989 photo of three of his players, Anderson Hunt, Moses Scurry and David Butler, sitting in a hot tub with Richard (the Fixer) Perry, a part-time Las Vegas resident twice convicted of rigging sports events.
June 16, 1991
The photo appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which reportedly paid $5,000 for it to an unnamed source. By Tarkanian's own admission, the publication of the photo and the ensuing publicity forced his hand. "I feel like part of my heart has been ripped out," Tarkanian said hours after announcing his decision. As he sat slumped behind his desk, looking weary and chewing on throat lozenges, Tarkanian was asked if he had been pressured to resign. "I figured out that something had to be done," he said. "It was that hot tub thing. It never stopped."
The hot tub photograph, which was reportedly shot by Perry's wife at the time, Joanne, was taken months after Tarkanian says he warned his players to stay away from Perry. Perry had been convicted in connection with fixed harness races in the early 1970's and in the Boston College point-shaving scandal a decade later.
The snapshot corroborated earlier reports that Perry socialized with Rebel players. The newspaper also ran a photo of him playing basketball with the three players and two other pictures of Perry sitting behind the UNLV bench during a game last December.
His ties to the Rebels have been under scrutiny since 1986, when Perry, who coaches youth basketball in New York during the summer, recruited the oft-troubled Lloyd Daniels, a New York City high school star, to UNLV. Perry also provided bail money for Daniels after the player was arrested for trying to buy crack in 1987. And according to a 1989 TIME magazine article, Perry gave Scurry and Butler $100 each during a lunch at Caesars Palace. Tarkanian insists he did not know Perry's background until that article appeared, and it was then that he issued his warning.
Perry has made a statement denying any wrongdoing involving the Vegas players. But Henry Hill, an organized-crime figure who was associated with Perry in the Boston College fixes, told SI's Kristina Rebelo last week that he wondered whether Perry's relationships with the UNLV players were similar to those with the BC players. "Richard does everything for a reason," Hill said by phone. "He wouldn't even talk to a player unless he had something going."
Perry's motive for befriending the players remains a question. Scurry and Butler say that they know Perry only as a summer coach. (Hunt has been unavailable for comment.) For his part, Tarkanian vehemently denies any suggestion that his players or coaches shaved points. "But," said Tarkanian's attorney, Alan Jones, last week, "how do you fight the perception?"
Although the hot tub photo was the last straw, it was only the latest in a series of scandals that have rocked Rebel basketball. As one former UNLV athletic department official said, "Someone let the water out of the Shark tank. But it had been leaking for some time." The photo was published just as the school was finishing a 300-page response to 29 alleged rules violations with which the basketball program had been charged last December. In addition, UNLV is about to go on probation as the result of a 1977 NCAA disciplinary action that Tarkanian unsuccessfully fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And when the defending NCAA champion Rebels were upset by Duke in the semifinals of this year's NCAA tournament, the Shark became expendable.
Tarkanian says he asked the Board of Regents and school president Robert Maxson for a meeting last week and offered to retire after next season. But athletic department sources say that if the coach hadn't volunteered, the offer would have been made for him.
Tarkanian insists he has no plans beyond next season at UNLV, his 19th with the Runnin' Rebels. Who will succeed him is already the subject of intense speculation. Tarkanian supports his longtime assistant, Tim Grgurich. Other names that have surfaced include Georgetown coach John Thompson and Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins.
"Whoever it is," Tarkanian said, sinking even deeper into his chair last Friday, "is going to have to win."
The Hunt Club
On his farm, Ron Hunt is raising ballplayers
Former major league second baseman Ron Hunt and his wife, Jackie, have their very own farm team. Actually, they have their own farm, a 110-acre spread in Wentzville, Mo., and their own team, 44 teenagers known as the Ron Hunt Eagles.
For 10 weeks each summer the Hunts, acting on the recommendations of coaches and scouts, invite a group of promising players, aged 15 to 18, from around the world to their farm. "Their lives consist of eating, sleeping and playing baseball," says Ron. "We make it clear to them that this is not the place to come if they're interested in meeting girls and socializing." What the boys miss in the way of parties, they make up for with exposure to college coaches and major league scouts. In the five previous summers that the Hunts have hosted the Eagles, 60 of the invitees have been signed to college scholarships and three have been drafted.
Life on the cattle farm begins each day at 9 a.m. when the team gathers to eat a breakfast prepared by Jackie and her mother. Then the boys take to the infield and the batting cages that Hunt has built on his property. "We let them rest up in the early afternoon, because generally we play a doubleheader against local teams every evening, and they're on the field from five till midnight," says Ron. Surprisingly enough, the Eagles have no drills on how to get hit by a baseball. That was Ron's specialty during his 12-year career; he is the alltime National League leader at getting hit by a pitch (243 times).
The Hunts came up with the idea for the Eagles seven years ago when Ron, who retired in 1974, became disgruntled with the way one of their own sons was being coached in American Legion ball. Jackie told her husband, "It's time to give something back to baseball." The original 1985 team consisted entirely of players from the Wentzville area. This year's club, however, has players from four states, as well as from Canada and France.
Ron has been known to put players to work on the farm if they've broken one of his many rules. Alumnus Neil Ioviero, now a pitcher for Rutgers, says, "We built stables for his horses, cleaned the stables and cut down weeds that were taller than me. He didn't miss a thing." Ron's strictest rule, though, applies to baseball: Everyone plays in every game, no matter the situation.
While the program has grown each year, so have the costs. Room and board are collected from each of the players, but that still leaves the Hunts some $10,000 short of the money they need to operate the club. They rely on cash donations for that. "We're always looking for support," says Ron, "but we don't feel like we're wasting our time."
Besides, Ron has always been willing to take one for the team.
Kurt Thomas's comeback is a comedown so far
To the overlong list of overage athletes making overambitious comebacks, add the name of gymnast Kurt Thomas. A 1976 Olympian and a former world champion in floor exercises and horizontal bar, the 35-year-old Thomas competed in last week's U.S. championships in Cincinnati, his first national-level meet in 11 years. Thomas wound up 22nd in a field of 49—far from the top-six finish he needed to qualify for a berth on the U.S. squad for September's world championships.
Though Thomas's routines were clearly not up to the level of today's best, he insisted after the meet that he will continue his quest for a spot on the '92 Olympic team. "We go back to the drawing board," said Thomas. "I'm not thrilled, but I'm not discouraged."
In the weeks leading up to the meet several of his younger competitors obviously were discouraged by the attention Thomas and his comeback were receiving. In the May issue of Gentlemen's Quarterly, national team member Patrick Kirksey called Thomas "the Milli Vanilli of gymnastics," and 1991 American Cup champion Trent Dimas suggested Thomas was returning to the sport only to make money.
Thomas, noted in his heyday for his brash attitude, bristled at the criticism. "They're jealous," he said. "I'm stealing their thunder." He made no attempt to muffle his own thunder by arriving in Cincinnati with an entourage that included an agent and a publicist.
Perhaps the best male gymnast the U.S. has ever produced, Thomas retired from the sport in '80, bitter over that year's U.S.-led Olympic boycott. In the decade that followed, he spent his time producing and performing in Kurt Thomas Gymnastics America, an Ice Capades-style revue. "I'm coming back because I can" said Thomas. "And of course I'm doing it for the glory. I've got nothing to lose and everything to gain."
In the end, Thomas gained little beyond the scattered shouts of "Go, Kurt!" that greeted his appearance in the arena. The crowd was otherwise rightfully focused on first-place finisher Chris Waller of UCLA Waller was gracious when speaking about Thomas. "I thought Kurt performed well," he said. "If he brings attention to gymnastics, that's great."
Stick 'Em Up
A pub in New Zealand is attached to a new sport
New Zealand, the home of long-distance runner John Walker, opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa, 3.5 million other people and 67 million sheep, is now the cradle of a new sport: Velcro wall-jumping.
What is Velcro wall-jumping? That sticky question was first answered seven years ago when David Letterman, wearing a suit made of Velcro loops, threw himself onto a wall covered with Velcro hooks. But that was just an exhibition. At the Cri Bar and Grill in Napier, N.Z., wall-jumping is a competition.
Graeme Smith, the promotional director for the Cri, has devised a Velcro suit and wall combination called the Human Fly, and he stages contests to see who can jump the highest from a mini-trampoline onto the wall. Heights are measured from the feet of the jumpers after they splat against the wall.
On May 29, contestants in both male and female divisions competed in the inaugural Human Fly world championship. The winning height of 12'8" was achieved by 20-year-old adherent Paul Rose, who performed an ingenious forward somersault that left him hanging heels over head.
Women jumpers use a different method. "We're better off propelling ourselves backward," jays bar manager Carol Westcott. She bases her theory on the fact that planar forms are more adhesive than nonplanar forms.
As for the peeling-off process, many contestants find that to be the best part of the sport. "One of our rules," says Smith, "is that the men peel off the women, and the women peel off the men. Sometimes it takes three women to peel off one guy."
THEY SAID IT
Lee Smith, St. Louis Cardinals reliever, explaining why he gained weight in the off-season: "I had my two-year-old counting sit-ups for me. He can count to 10, but he skips some of the numbers."
Jose Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodger outfielder, on being the only position player on an Opening Day roster to have gone hitless this far into the season: "I wonder what the record is. No, I don't want to know."
[Thumb Up] To the PGA Tournament Policy Board, for eliminating the three-month-old practice of having an official monitor television broadcasts to spot rules violations by players (SCORECARD, May 20).
[Thumb Up] TO Ted Newland, water polo coach at UC Irvine, for donating $20,000 of his own money to help keep his program afloat. The water polo team, which has won three NCAA titles, will no longer be funded by the university.
[Thumb Down] To the Washington Square Mall in Evansville, Ind., which is requiring exercise-conscious people who walk in the shopping mall in the early morning to pay a $10 yearly fee.
Making a List
The 91st U.S. Open will be played this week at the Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn. Over the years, the Fates have smiled upon, or teased, many nondescript golfers at the Open. Here are 10 such players.
Cyril Walker, a tiny man with a reputation to match, beat Bobby Jones by three strokes to win the 1924 Open.
Johnny Goodman, a 23-year-old amateur, shot a 66 in the second round in 1933 and held on to win by a stroke.
Sam Parks entered the '35 Open at Oakmont because he knew the course by heart and won despite a final-round 76.
Tony Manero came out of nowhere on the last day to win the '36 Open. Manero benefited from the counsel of playing partner Gene Sarazen.
Jack Fleck, an obscure Iowa pro, beat Ben Hogan in the '55 Open playoff using a Ben Hogan putter.
Marty Fleckman, a 23-year-old amateur, had a one-stroke lead after three rounds of the '67 Open. However, he then shot an 80 to finish 18th.
Orville Moody, who had spent most of his prime in the Army, won in '69. He never won another PGA Tour event.
Andy North has won only three Tour events, but two of them are Opens: '78 and '85.
T.C. Chen lost the '85 Open to North by a stroke because his double-hit sand wedge on the 5th hole of the final round led to a quadruple bogey.
Mike Donald frittered away a two-stroke lead with three holes to play in his playoff with Hale Irwin in '90, losing on the 91st hole.
The other night someone somehow changed the recording used at the Minnesota Vikings' offices. Instead of the regular message, callers heard this: "Thank you for calling the most rotten, stinking team in the history of man. That's right, you have reached the Minnesota Vikings."
Replay 15 Years Ago in Sports Illustrated
Dwight Stones of Long Beach State made our June 14, 1976, cover with his world-record high jump at the NCAA championships. It was a busy week: The Celtics won their 13th NBA title; Sugar Ray Leonard and Michael and Leon Spinks earned berths on the U.S. Olympic boxing team; and Bold Forbes, trained by Laz Barrera and ridden by Angel Cordero Jr., won the Belmont. Said Barrera, "God, I have found out, is Latin."