The Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Matt Youmans checks in with the first of a two-parter chronicling the decline of UNLV’s basketball program. Aside from attributing his departure from Vegas to his recruitment of Lloyd Daniels (“I saw him recently and he told me I saved his life, so I feel good about how Lloyd turned out.”), former Running Rebels coach Jerry Tarkanian isn’t much for admitting any wrongdoing.

Tarkanian said the beginning of the end for him came when university president Robert Maxson reportedly forced Brad Rothermel to resign as athletic director and replaced him with Dennis Finfrock.

“That’s when the program really suffered, when Finfrock came in, because he had no qualifications to be an athletic director,” Tarkanian said. “The difference between Finfrock and Rothermel was astronomical. I still feel if we didn’t have Finfrock sabotaging our program, we would have won that (Duke) game, too.”

In November 1991, Finfrock resigned, saying he was taking too much criticism from Tarkanian supporters who contended the coach’s resignation was orchestrated by Finfrock and Maxson. They were only two of three villains in Tarkanian’s eyes, the third being university counsel Brad Booke.

“I really have greater animosity for Booke and Finfrock than I do for Maxson, even though Maxson probably orchestrated it all,” Tarkanian said. “I have never in my life met an attorney who lied more than Brad Booke. That’s who Maxson surrounded himself with, Booke and Finfrock.

“If Booke told you ‘Good morning’ it was probably dark outside. If he ever took a polygraph test, I’m sure he would have gotten electrocuted.”

The NCAA had launched an investigation that lasted almost six years before determining there was a lack of institutional control by UNLV over its men’s basketball program. In 1993, the Rebels were placed on three years’ probation.

“We took so much heat because of the NCAA, but after five years of the most intensive investigation ever, they did not have one major violation,” Tarkanian said.

As for the charge of a lack of institutional control, Tarkanian said, “That was the administration, not us.”

Tarkanian and Maxson are historically inseparable because of the way their relationship ended, but Tarkanian said for a long time he did not think Maxson was out to get him.

“I didn’t believe it because Maxson used to write me nice letters all the time to say how much he supported me,” Tarkanian said. “He actually had me believing he was on my side. I never had a confrontation with him. I thought the guy loved me. My friends said, ‘Tark, you’re so naive.’

“The administration — Maxson, Booke and Finfrock — they wanted people to believe we had bad guys who were great players. But they were great guys.”

Before the 1990 championship game against Duke, which UNLV won 103-73, Tarkanian was asked by ESPN analyst Dick Vitale to do a TV interview. The first question was a reference to the game pitting “Good versus Evil.”

Tarkanian responded: “That really upsets me. I know those Duke guys and they’re not bad guys at all. People shouldn’t say that about the Duke players.”