Tarkanians endorse shark mascot amid Hey Reb! controversy
The school adopted the shark mascot — an ode to the late Jerry Tarkanian’s nickname, Tark the Shark — during a tenure that included 18 20-win seasons and a national title.
Lois Tarkanian has a wealth of fond memories of UNLV and its basketball heyday.
There are those of her husband, the legendary coach Jerry, chewing wet towels from his sideline post inside Thomas & Mack Center. There are those of Larry Johnson, Anderson Hunt, David Butler, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony overpowering anybody and everybody in their way en route to the 1990 national championship.
Then there are those of a shark mascot parading its way through the arena, feeding off the hysterical crowd and basking in the frenzy that accompanied all the perennial winning the program used to experience.
“It was cool. You had that little shark running around at the top of the arena, and I just think people liked it,” said Tarkanian, who kept the press clippings involving her late husband and his Rebels. “I never was sold on Hey Reb!. … It wasn’t something that I felt was that critical. I felt winning games was critical. ,,,, So it was whatever the school wanted.”
Tarkanian said she’d be open to the exhumation of the shark mascot should the university decide to abandon Hey Reb!. The school removed a bronze statue of Hey Reb! from its campus on Tuesday amid some blowback about its alleged ties to the Confederacy.
A university spokesperson said Wednesday that no other determinations have been made regarding the future of the Rebels’ nickname and Hey Reb! mascot.
“There’s some people who think all of this is being carried too far,” said Tarkanian, a former city councilwoman and veteran educator. “There’s some people who think this is very important. I think if you think it’s important, and it’s not bothering the other people and you need to remove (Hey Reb!), then remove it. I wouldn’t put up a big argument to keep it.”
The school adopted the shark mascot — an ode to the coach’s nickname, Tark the Shark — during a tenure that included 18 20-win seasons, the national title and two additional trips to the Final Four. Lois Tarkanian also said she remembered the mascot being quite popular with fans from other markets at the 1990 Final Four in Denver.
As for changing the school nickname, Tarkanian said she’s more in favor of changing the mascot than the nickname.
“In my mind, Rebel always was someone who stood up for what was right and was willing to fight for what was right,” Tarkanian said. “That’s what the Rebel means to me. But to some people, it may mean differently and that has to be taken into consideration.”
Tarkanian’s son, Danny, takes a stronger stance on the nickname, saying he’d oppose the school changing it from “Rebel” to anything else. He said that it’s “one of the stupidest things the university could do,” citing the tradition and brand power attached to the nickname and its association with the basketball program.
But the mascot for the younger Tarkanian is a different story.
“I tell my kids all the time — they weren’t around when my father was coaching — ‘There’s never been another coach in the history of college sports that had his own mascot.’ I love it,” he said. “If they (brought back the shark), it’d be wonderful. I’d love to see the shark again.”
And so, too, would his mother.
“Let me tell you, anything that honors my husband, I think is great,” she said. “And it might get everybody’s attention — sharks in the middle of the desert.”
Contact reporter Sam Gordon at email@example.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.