Originally created 04/03/98

Tarkanian to receive $2.5 million in settlement with NCAA



LOS ANGELES -- Jerry Tarkanian's "terrible ordeal" with the NCAA is finally over, after 26 years of pain, anger and disappointment.

The NCAA paid the Fresno State basketball coach $2.5 million Thursday to settle his lawsuit against the organization -- although Tarkanian said the money won't begin to ease his agony.

"They came after me, they never stopped," Tarkanian said. "The more I fought them, the more they came after me."

Tarkanian and his wife, Lois, filed the suit in 1992, claiming the NCAA manufactured evidence against his basketball programs to try to run him out of coaching. The settlement was reached six weeks before it was to go to trial in Las Vegas, where Tarkanian coached for almost 20 years.

NCAA executive director Cedric Dempsey said the organization decided to settle after it failed to move the case out of Nevada and after several mock trials put on by NCAA lawyers ended with Tarkanian winning.

While not admitting any liability, the NCAA said it regretted the dispute and considered Tarkanian a good coach.

"Obviously, Jerry Tarkanian has proven himself to be an excellent college basketball coach," said the statement, which added the NCAA and Tarkanian would go ahead with a clean slate.

While Tarkanian said he'll never get over the hurt, he also said he just wants to get along.

"I want to be their friend, I don't want to be their enemy anymore," he said. "I hope I never have problems with them again.

"The biggest mistake I ever made was taking them on. The average coach has no chance. It's been a terrible ordeal, I'm glad it's over. They can never come close to paying me for the hurt they caused."

Attorney Terry Giles said he believes the settlement represents vindication for his clients.

"Not only for Jerry and Lois, but anyone who felt like they didn't have a chance to put forth their case against the NCAA," Giles said. "It was just about fairness, that was the basis of our lawsuit.

"We're ready to move forward in a very positive way."

Giles, who referred to the NCAA as "the true 600-pound gorilla," said the organization had made out a cashier's check for $2.5 million and was sending it Thursday by express mail.

He said attorney fees will take up 30 percent to 40 percent of the settlement, with the Tarkanians getting the rest.

The Tarkanians didn't ask for a specific dollar amount in their suit. Under Nevada law, plaintiffs merely ask for over $10,000 in damages.

Lois Tarkanian called it a victory, saying, "We felt it was an amount that showed we had victory in this case. This shows you can take on a large organization like this and maybe win. You can stand up, you just have to never give up."

Branded an outlaw coach in the dispute, Tarkanian had contended the NCAA targeted his teams at Long Beach State and UNLV.

"The NCAA regrets the 26-year ongoing dispute with Jerry Tarkanian and looks forward to putting this matter to rest," Dempsey said in a statement. "While the process has been difficult, all sides have hopefully become wiser, and more understanding of one another's positions."

Dempsey said the case has led to changes in the NCAA's investigative processes, including allowing coaches and their attorneys to attend enforcement committee hearings and making investigators record their interviews on tape.

But he stopped short of saying mistakes were made in investigations of Tarkanian's programs or making a formal apology to the coach.

"No, it does not," Dempsey said when asked whether the settlement meant the NCAA was admitting mistakes.

Tarkanian was coaching at Long Beach State when he wrote in the Long Beach Press Telegram about what he believed to be unfairness by the NCAA in penalizing smaller schools and not more prominent programs who were perhaps more deserving of punishment.

"I think the biggest factor was Warren Brown and the Enforcement Committee got upset with me and I kept fighting back," Tarkanian said. "I always spoke up for what I thought was right.

"I will always believe it was those newspaper articles that got Warren Brown so mad and the Enforcement Committee so mad."

Lois Tarkanian said former UCLA athletic director J.D. Morgan "was involved in calling the NCAA and saying Long Beach was breaking rules."

At trial, Giles said, testimony from former players, officials and lawyers would have shown that, except for one minor infraction, the NCAA had no evidence to back up probations given to basketball programs at Long Beach State and UNLV.

"We felt very confident about our case for seven years," Giles said. "I told Jerry and Lois that the day we were in the courtroom picking a jury was the day we were beginning to win the case."

Giles said he took the case after six months of investigation.

"It is really important to understand how horrible this situation was," he said. "The things that we discovered were unbelievable."