Outside the arena, the wind was blowing hurricane hard, uprooting trees, knocking down power lines, covering the city with a layer of fine desert dirt.
Inside the arena, inside the protective walls of the office of the basketball coach of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, a foul wind was blowing, a wind carrying a whiff of scandal that threatens to further stain a school with the country's dirtiest reputation.The wind inside was fed by fresh whispers and old allegations. News of players associating with a convicted point shaver had to be managed at the same time the school rushed to meet an NCAA deadline to answer old questions about allegations of recruiting violations.
At the center of the storm, as usual, was Jerry Tarkanian, the head basketball coach. Tark, as he is called, was fit to be tied about this one.
"This is the one that has put me over the edge," Tarkanian said. "I'm fed up."
He said he was so mad, so upset at the attacks on his team and his players, that he would quit his job. He has three years left on his contract, but he said he would be long gone before then. He will leave, he said, as soon as the NCAA completes an investigation begun in 1987 and expected to end this summer.
"I am totally fed up," he said angrily. "But I will never resign, I will never do anything, until the NCAA thing is over. Don't anybody think different."
Of course, he could be fired first, by the university's president, Robert Maxson, or by athletic director Dennis Finfrock.
Tarkanian's team is already on probation for next season, banned from television and postseason play for an earlier NCAA violation. Monday, the university's board of regents will reportedly meet to discuss the basketball program.
All around him, the coach has seen his once rock-solid support erode like clay in a downpour.
It seems like just a matter of time, then, for a betting line to be established at one of the casinos along the Strip: Will Tark be fired before he quits?
The school president has said over and over again that he wants the cloud hanging over the basketball program cleared out once and for all. And if that means getting rid of the man who has coached the Runnin' Rebels for 18 very successful seasons, including three trips to the Final Four in the past five years, Maxson has that indicated he will do it.
A clause in Tarkanian's contract says his job can be terminated automatically only if he is implicated in a major NCAA violation.
Saturday, the school submitted a 300-page reply to the NCAA inquiry of the basketball program.
Tarkanian is no fool. He knows his support is not what it once was in the president's office and down the hall from his desk, in Finfrock's office. He feels the erosion around him at the university.
"I'm sure there's a lot of that," Tarkanian acknowledged, "but I have great support in the community."
"What will you do if you quit?" Tarkanian was asked.
The head coach sighed and answered in a rush: "I don't know. I don't know what the hell I'll do."