Jerry Tarkanian lived at 839 Robin Hood Lane during his coaching career at Redlands High School. The recent passing of the man many considered an outlaw, made the Robin Hood Lane residence the perfect name for the controversial coach. Tarkanian made the National Basketball Hall of Fame for many reasons beyond winning 761 games at the College Division I level. He was a Robin Hood who rescued many a teen from a life of crime.
In 1959, at Redlands High, Tark made it glamorous to play defense. By 1960, he led RHS to the CBL championship. Tark’s bio states he was 28-years-old when he came from Antelope Valley High to coach at Redlands. Coincidently, Tark was coaching at Antelope Valley High at the same time rock hall of fame member Frank Zappa was a student.
Tark and Zappa are both dead now, yet they had some mutually beneficial characteristics. Each performed well before large audiences. Both made it to the top of their respective fields. Zappa as guest director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and Tarkanian as head coach of the San Antonio Spurs. They both had an affinity for the little guy and underdogs. Just as important they had a natural knowledge about the inner workings of the media. Tarkanian often wrote hand written, individualized press releases to local reporters Garland Rose, Claude Anderson and Gordon Verrell.
There are first hand reports of Tark and Zappa granting priority to reporters from small weekly newspapers instead of first talking to those from more influential large dailies. The New York Times reported that Tarkanian locked the locker room door on its reporters when he coached the Spurs. Likewise, Zappa allegedly locked the door on the Los Angeles Times at the Swing Auditorium while talking to a reporter from a weekly. They both were said to trust people.
Tark coached only the 1959-60 and 1960-61 seasons at Redlands High. It was also in 1960 that Zappa recorded his first songs in the studios of the former KMEN radio studio in Highland. Zappa was also performing within earshot of Tark in San Bernardino lounges. It could not be verified if Tark or Zappa ever knew each other, but they had to have at least crossed paths at Antelope Valley. Zappa was a reporter on the school paper when Tark was the basketball coach.
For sure they both drank that same desert water because something gave them each the flare for the dramatic. Tark had the audacity to sue the NCAA and take them to the Supreme Court. Zappa once shockingly took a bowel movement onstage in front of a live audience. Classmates who knew Zappa at AVHS stated on a school blog site that he was already a musical genius as a teen and they were not surprised at his eventual stardom.
Al Sanchez has been associated with Redlands High since he graduated from the school in 1951. Sanchez saw and heard all the school’s great personalities, from Tarkanian’s coaching to the singing of Joan Baez. “There was no doubt about Joan Baez. Once you heard her voice, you knew it.” Sanchez did not say that he could predict Tark’s future. He did say that once Tark accepted the head coaching job at Riverside City College, it became obvious about the national success that would follow.
“Tarkanian got along with everyone in Redlands. I think it was because he was so likeable that helped him succeed. He just kept amazing people,” recalled Sanchez. “He was close friends with Frank Serrao, another great coach from Redlands. I’m not sure if knowing Frank helped him in the future. There was just something different about Tarkanian.”
Tarkanian was constantly accused of bringing in academically ineligible ringers during his 40-year college coaching career. It something that still exists, but they say Tark took it a step further. During his career, he coached 60 players who were drafted by the NBA. His first was 1961 RHS graduate Dan Wolthers.
Jim Weatherwax said he played two years for Tarkanian at RHS. He did not comment about Tarkanian as a coach, but considered Frank Serrao at Redlands as good as any coach. Weatherwax had a lot to compare from. He played basketball for Tark and football for coach Serrao at RHS and for Vince Lombardi in the NFL.
Tarkanian coached against the great Citrus Belt League coaches of the era. Dick Adair at SBHS. Tom Morrow at Colton. Tom Williams at Ramona. Kent Hayden at Yucaipa. Jim Blake of Chaffey and Bob Webster at Pacific. “Tarkanian was a great guy. He wasn’t stuck on himself,” said Hayden. “He got kids from the ghetto who would never had a chance without him.
“I never thought about him going on to become famous. You don’t think that far in advance. We worked together to get the first basketball summer league started in 1959 in Redlands.” Tarkanian recruited center Ted Page from Yucaipa High to play on his 1964 state championship team at RCC. Tark won three straight California Junior College championships at RCC and lost another in overtime. “Jerry Tarkanian spoke at our first Yucaipa High basketball banquet in 1960,” said Hayden.