Former UNLV athletic director, arena manager dies at 62

Dennis Finfrock, whose innovative thinking in the construction and management of special events facilities was overshadowed by a brief, turbulent run as UNLV’s interim athletic director that resulted in the resignation of popular Rebels basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, died this morning from complications of Parkinson’s disease. He was 62.

Finfrock had battled Parkinson’s for more than 13 years before dying at a long-term care center in Henderson.

While Finfrock’s name — along with that of then-UNLV president Robert Maxson — grabbed headlines in 1992 during a public battle with the beleaguered Tarkanian, friends and associates of the former Thomas & Mack Center director remembered him for innovative decisions that brought more than $1 billion into the Southern Nevada economy.

Most notably: Finfrock’s gamble in 1983 to have the Thomas & Mack restructured as a multiuse facility rather than built as a basketball-only venue.

“Everyone running major venues in this town has roots that go back to Thomas & Mack and are tied to Dennis,” said Daren Libonati, the current director of the Thomas & Mack who began working for Finfrock in 1992.

Pat Christenson, Las Vegas Events president and a longtime student of Finfrock, said his mentor’s unique vision to make last-minute revisions to the arena was one of several chances he took in business that paid off.

Ripping out concrete and nine rows of seats at both ends of the 18,500-seat arena six months before it opened allowed for the use of portable grandstands for basketball games but provided for a more versatile facility. That decision, Libonati said, allowed for a variety of events to be staged there.

Without Finfrock’s vision, Las Vegas might not be hosting the National Finals Rodeo in December for the 25th year, the seven-day Professional Bull Riders World Finals or anything on ice — from Disney shows to hockey games.

But for all Finfrock did to develop the Thomas & Mack, Sam Boyd Stadium and, later, the MGM Grand Garden into major sports and entertainment venues, he received his most media attention as UNLV’s interim athletic director, when he became embroiled in the controversy that led to Tarkanian’s resignation.

The resignation came one year after the Rebels won the NCAA championship, with the program mired in violations and with players having alleged ties to a convicted sports fixer.

“It kills me that so many people only knew him for that,” Libonati said of Finfrock. “It makes my heart sad.”

Said Christenson, hired by Finfrock as a UNLV assistant wrestling coach in 1980: “I was there for that. I know Dennis has always regretted that he was involved with that.”

Maxson named Finfrock interim athletic director in 1991 to replace the retiring Brad Rothermel.

“It was clear to me as early as 1984 that (Maxson’s) intentions were to see if he could separate Jerry Tarkanian from the institution,” Rothermel told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2006.

“Maxson used Dennis. It really wore him out,” said Christenson, who replaced Finfrock in 1992 as director of the Thomas & Mack and Sam Boyd after Finfrock became vice president of special events for the MGM Grand Garden, which opened on New Year’s Eve 1993.

Said Libonati: “Dennis was a loyal ambassador to whomever his boss was. He was caught in a bad triangle with Maxson and Tarkanian.”

Finfrock resigned after 15 months as athletic director — a position Christenson said Finfrock had coveted — because of the public outcry over Tarkanian’s departure. Finfrock didn’t remain idle for long.

When the MGM decided to build a sports and entertainment arena adjacent to the Strip resort, it turned to Finfrock to oversee construction and develop it into a major player in the market. He signed Barbra Streisand to open the Grand Garden with her first arena concert in 20 years and landed the Rolling Stones, who had not played in such a venue in five years.

In 1994, Finfrock gambled on the new Professional Bull Riders circuit, and the Grand Garden hosted its World Finals until 1999.

Also in 1994, the Grand Garden hosted 42 boxing title fights — the most in one year at a Las Vegas venue, Libonati said.

Then, in 1995, Finfrock signed Mike Tyson to a six-fight, $20 million deal after Tyson was released from prison, helping the Grand Garden surpass Caesars Palace as the Strip’s primary boxing venue.

“At the time, the MGM Grand was the brand new, biggest thing going on in Vegas,” Ty Murray, a seven-time world all-around champion and PBR founding partner, said of the inaugural Finals. “That’s where all of the buzz and all of the talk was, and that’s where we had our event.”

Finfrock was part of a massive cutback at the MGM in 1995 and soon began working as an independent design consultant for various arenas and stadiums, including the Olympic stadium for the 2000 Sydney Games, the Bangkok Dome in Thailand and Staples Center in Los Angeles.

In 1996 and 1997, Finfrock served as president of the International Association of Auditorium Managers — now the International Association of Assembly Managers.

Despite being diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1996, Finfrock became executive vice president of ticketing and marketing for Advantix, a Southern California-based box office agency. In 2003, Finfrock served as special events manager for the Cannery in North Las Vegas and staged a few boxing cards with promoter Richard Steele.

Becoming one of the country’s most noted authorities on arena and stadium design and management could not have been more off the radar for Finfrock when he left Brigham Young in 1970 to become a high school science teacher and coach in Clark County.

Finfrock, a three-year member of the BYU football team, began coaching the sport at Rancho before moving to Chaparral, where he coached wrestling.

In 1976, Finfrock started the UNLV wrestling program, and in 1980 he became an assistant athletic director. He soon convinced Christenson to move from Wisconsin to become his assistant coach.

“I sent 10 letters to colleges in the warm weather trying to find an assistant coaching job,” said Christenson, an NCAA wrestling champion. “Dennis called and offered me $4,000 a year, but that wasn’t enough. I was headed to take a job at Louisiana State when he called back and asked if I’d be willing to help coordinate other sports events at the school to earn more money.”

Soon after, construction nearly was completed on the Thomas & Mack. About six months before it opened, Finfrock became its director and made the risky call that could have led to a short-lived career. He got the state Legislature to invest about $200,000 to remove the first nine rows of seats at both ends of the arena. He thought by doing that and using portable seating for basketball games, it would open a wide market for other events when they were rolled back.

Finfrock took another gamble in 1983 when he got the late Sam Boyd to contribute $1.2 million to install removable artificial turf at the stadium that bears Boyd’s name. As with the Thomas & Mack gamble, Finfrock envisioned multiple uses for the football stadium but knew he had to have a protected playing surface for the Rebels.

“Maxson came out and asked Dennis if he realized that some decisions can cost you your job,” Christenson said.

Finfrock said he did. The retractable roll of material enabled Sam Boyd to begin a lucrative tradition of hosting Supercross motorcycle races and Monster Truck shows, which are among the two best attended events of the year at the former Silver Bowl.

“That exemplifies what great vision Dennis had,” Christenson says.

Finfrock was born June 25, 1947, in Yuma, Ariz. He is survived by his wife of 44 years, Kay, and son Jason, 40, the associate marketing director of the Thomas & Mack.

At Dennis Finfrock’s request, no funeral services will be held.

Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at jwolf@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0247.

ad-high_impact_4
News
Paris Wade discusses about his “Liberty Writers” website
Paris Wade, who made national headlines for operating a fake news website and boasts about getting President Donald Trump elected in 2016, speaks during an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Friday, April 20, 2018, in Las Vegas. Wade is running for Nevada Assembly. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Police Unity Tour from New Jersey to Washington D.C. to commemorate fallen officers.
Las Vegas Metro police and Henderson police officers ride their bikes during the Vegas Team's last practice rides in preparation for the Police Unity Tour from New Jersey to Washington D.C. to commemorate fallen officers. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review Journal @bizutesfaye
UNLV students walk out of class on national walkout day
UNLV students and supporters chanted, marched and rallied on national walkout day Friday, April 20 on the 19th anniversary of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado. K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Captain Sasha Larkin Discusses Challenges, Progress in North West
Captain Sasha Larkin, of Metro's Northwest Area Command, discusses what issues face the northwest valley's residents and what police are doing to address them.
Southwest giving passengers on deadly flight $5,000 for compensation
Passengers on Flight 1380 have been receiving checks as a gesture of goodwill from the airline.
Ellis Island Buys Mt. Charleston Lodge
Ellis Island, which operates a casino, brewery and hotel just off the Strip, purchased the Mt. Charleston Lodge in early April.
LVMPD Arrests Suspect in Sunset Park Shooting
Captain Robert Plummer held a press conference at LVMPD headquarters Thursday to provide updates on the arrest of Anthony J. Wrobel, accused of killing a Venetian executive and wounding one other in a shooting on Sunday.
Two Black Men Arrested at Starbucks Share Their Story
Two Black Men Arrested at Starbucks Share Their Story Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson sat down with ABC’s ‘Good Morning America’ on Thursday and said the Starbucks manager called the police two minutes after they arrived. Donte Robinson, to 'Good Morning America' Donte Robinson, to 'Good Morning America' The men were meeting with a friend for a business meeting at the store’s location at around 3:45 pm on April 12 and declined to make any purchases. Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson issued a public apology and vowed to fix the issue by closing 8,000 stores nationwide next month for training on unconscious bias. Both Nelson and Robinson were released without charges after spending hours in jail, and the manager is no longer with the company.
Hero Southwest Pilot Was One of the Navy’s First Female Fighter Pilots
Hero Southwest Pilot Was One of the Navy’s First Female Fighter Pilots Tammie Jo Shults is being called a hero after safely landing the crippled Southwest Flight 1380 in Philadelphia. According to a spokesperson, Shults began her Navy career in 1985 and was one of the first female pilots to “transition to tactical aircraft.” She served for another eight years before moving to the Naval Reserve, retiring completely in 2001 with the rank of Lt. Commander. The Southwest flight, which was headed for Dallas from New York, was forced to make an emergency landing after one of its engines blew. One passenger was killed in the explosion when shrapnel flew through a window. Seven others suffered minor injuries aboard the flight, which carried 149 people. Passenger Peggy Phillips, to NBC News Passenger Peggy Phillips, to NBC News
Bump stock manufacturers under fire
The Justice Department said last month that it had started the process to amend federal firearms regulations to clarify that federal law defines bump stocks as machine guns.
Artist, Community Paint Winchester Skate Park
Andrew Schoultz, a Los Angeles-based artist with an upcoming exhibit at UNLV's Barrick Museum, painted the skate park at Winchester Cultural Center on Tuesday.
Prince death investigation coming to an end
Prosecutors in Minnesota plan an announcement Thursday on the two-year investigation into Prince's death from a drug overdose Prince was 57 when he was found alone and unresponsive in an elevator at his Paisley Park estate on April 21, 2016. An autopsy found he died of an accidental overdose of fentanyl. Search warrants unsealed about a year after Prince died showed that authorities searched his home, cellphone records of associates and his email accounts to try to determine how he got the drug. The county attorney has scheduled a morning announcement at which time charges could be filed.
David Copperfield executive producer testifies during the magician's civil trial
A British tourist is suing illusionist David Copperfield saying he was injured during a trick. Chris Kenner, executive producer for illusionist David Copperfield, was on the witness stand all day Tuesday, April 17. Kenner testified that a business manager for the show talked to the man after he fell. Kenner testified that the tourist, Gavin Cox, said he was OK moments after the fall. Cox later told the crew: “Maybe I will have this looked at.” Copperfield is the next witness in line for Cox’s attorneys. K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Art Bell’s Top 10 Shows
A selection of radio host Art Bell’s most popular shows.
CCSD Teacher Is a Living Organ Donor
June Monroe speaks about her kidney donation to her brother and advocacy work with the National Kidney Foundation.
Shadow Ridge High School teachers protest
Shadow Ridge High School teachers protest. Teachers are upset over many things, including the fact that the district is fighting an arbitration ruling for pay raises. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Clark County commissioners debate getting rid of Henderson, North Las Vegas constables
Clark County commissioners are debating whether to get rid of the Henderson and North Las Vegas constables after RJ's story pointing out questionable spending by the Henderson Constable Earl Mitchell. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
1 Dead, 7 Injured After Southwest Airlines Flight Makes Emergency Landing
1 Dead, 7 Injured After Southwest Airlines Flight Makes Emergency Landing Dallas-bound Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 out of New York, which had 143 passengers and a crew of five onboard, landed in Philadelphia on Tuesday. According to NBC10, a female passenger was partially sucked out of a broken window, which was a result of the plane's engine ripping apart. It's not known if the female passenger was the one who died. Emergency personnel met the battered plane upon its landing. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the blown engine resulted in a smashed window and a damaged fuselage. Southwest Airlines The FAA said that the NTSB will lead the investigation into what happened.
Single vehicle crash kills man
A man died Tuesday morning in a single-vehicle crash in northeast Las Vegas. The crash occurred Tuesday morning on the 1900 block of Pasadena Boulevard, near Lake Mead Boulevard and Mt. Hood Street. Police had few details, but Metro's fatal detail was on the scene investigating.
Sunset Park Homicide (update 2)
LVMPD gives update about suspect in homicide at Sunset Park (Blake Apgar)
Sunset Park Homicide (update)
Update from LVMPD on Sunset Park homicide. Releasing suspect's name (Blake Apgar)
Sunset Park Homicide
Police give details about Sunset Park homicide on Sunday, April 15, 2018. (Blake Apgar)
Parents of autistic child talk about their experience waiting for care
Parents of autistic child talk about their experience waiting for care. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Donald Trump Calls Out James Comey After Book Details Emerge
Donald Trump Calls Out James Comey After Book Details Emerge The President took to Twitter to criticize the former FBI director as information emerges from Comey’s new book, ‘A Higher Loyalty’. According to 'The New York Times', Comey describes Trump in the book as “unethical, and untethered to truth and institutional values.” James Comey, A Higher Loyalty, via The New York Times A Higher Loyalty hits stores on April 17.
Big Bounce America visits North Las Vegas
Billing itself as "the biggest bounce house in the world," Big Bounce America visits Craig Ranch Regional Park in Las Vegas.
Endangered Devils Hole Pupfish numbers enough for concern, but not panic
Researchers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Death Valley National Park came together at Devils Hole, about 90 miles west of Las Vegas, for a biannual count of the Devils Hole Pupfish, an endangered species. Their count this time – 87. (Video by Patrick Connolly)
Hickey Elementary Students Put Harry Potter on Trial
Liliam Lujan Hickey Elementary School students learned how the judicial system works by putting Harry Potter on trial for the illegal use of magic.
David Copperfield in court after man injured during magic trick
The attorney for a British man who is suing illusionist David Copperfield said his client suffered serious injuries after being called on stage during Copperfield's show at MGM Grand.
The Clark County Museum Turns 50 This Month
The Clark County Museum has an extensive collection, dating back to prehistoric times in Southern Nevada up through the present day. It was first established in April 1968 and has had several locations before it's current home on South Boulder Highway.
Route 91 Artifacts Will Be On Display This October
Clark County Museum Administrator Mark Hall-Patton explains what artifacts will be on display in October as part of the museums Route 91 shooting memorial exhibit called "How We Mourned."
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
ad-infeed_1
ads_infeed_2
Local Spotlight
Events
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like