By Justin Sandoval |Asst. Sports Editor|
The month of February has seen the death of four of the most iconic personalities and individuals in sports: Charlie Sifford, Billy Casper, Dean Smith, and Jerry Tarkanian.
Charlie Sifford died on Feb. 3. Sifford considered himself a black golfer as it was his color that banned him from the PGA Tour, not his ethnicity.
“He’s like my grandpa I never had…he fought and what he did the courage it took for him to stick with it and be out here and play, I probably wouldn’t be here because my dad would’ve never picked up the game,” said Tiger Woods at the 2015 Farmers Insurance Open.
Sifford was able to make his PGA Tour debut after The PGA of America dropped it’s “white only clause,” in 1961.
Sifford went on to win the 1967 Greater Hartford Open and 1969 Los Angeles Open, continuing on to win his ﬁrst major title at the 1988 PGA Senior Championship at Sleepy Hollow in Brecksville, Ohio. As Sifford told Golf Digest in a 2007 interview, “… and in the end I won. I got a lot of black people playing golf. That’s good enough. If I had to do it over again, exactly the same way, I would.”
Billy Casper Golf legend and Southern California native Billy Casper died Feb. 7, 2015.
In twenty years on Tour, he won the US Open in 1959 and 1966, and the 1970 Masters Tournament at Augusta National.
A charismatic pioneer of televised golf. “It started growing in ‘58 and we grew along with it. It took Palmer about 12 years to become a millionaire. I was the second millionaire, and it took me 14 years.”
A family man, Casper stated in a CNN interview, “I want to be remembered that I had great love for my fellow man.” Casper’s website reads, “my goal in life is to help my fellow man and touch people’s lives in a positive way wherever I go.”
Inducted into the Hall of Fame, Smith is praised by peers and players as an innovator of the contemporary game.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said, “He was one of a kind, and the sport of basketball lost one of its true pillars. While building an elite program at UNC, he was clearly ahead of his time in dealing with social issues.”
Smith coached legends James Worthy and Michael Jordan, to mention a couple.
The legendary University of California Los Angeles coach John Wooden was once quoted as saying, “if Smith was the world’s best teacher of basketball, then Michael Jordan was his ﬁnest student.”
Known for his humble, team-ﬁrst philosophy, he coined what is now known as the “Carolina Way,” still used by his former assistant and current UNC coach Roy Williams.
“…he was my mentor, my teacher, my second father. Coach was always there for me whenever I needed him and I loved him for it. In teaching me the game of basketball, he taught me about life…We’ve lost a great man who had an incredible impact on his players, his staff and the entire UNC family,” Michael Jordan.
Jerry Tarkanian University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) Rebel, Hall of Fame Coach, Jerry “Tark the Shark” Tarkanian died Feb. 11, 2015. Tarkanian took four UNLV teams to the ﬁnal four in the early 1990’s, known as the “Runnin Rebels.”
Krzyzewski told ESPN that he places Tarkanian among the greatest defensive minds to coach the game.
“When you went into Las Vegas you knew they where going to bring an energy, and it was tough to match that energy,” Tarkanian himself said, “there are so many aspects to coaching, getting people to play together, a group to care about each other and be unselﬁsh, it takes unique individual.” Indeed, he was all that was described.