Former Penn State AD Jim Tarman dies at 89

UNIVERSITY PARK — Longtime Penn State Director of Athletics Jim Tarman, who led the Nittany Lions’ transition into the Big Ten Conference, died on Sunday, Dec. 31, in State College at the age of 89.

Tarman joined the Penn State intercollegiate athletics staff in 1958 as sports publicity director and served the university for 36 years. He was promoted to director of athletics in 1982, serving as AD until his retirement in 1993.

“The Penn State Athletics family is saddened with the passing of Jim Tarman,” Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour said in a university statement. “Jim was a passionate, dedicated and, obviously, highly influential member of the intercollegiate athletics and university staff for more than 35 years. Jim played a significant role in the growth of our athletic program, including leading our women’s programs into NCAA competition, new and improved facilities for student athletes and, of course, our invitation and transition into the Big Ten Conference. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Tarman family and all of Jim’s friends and colleagues at Penn State and throughout the nation.”

During Tarman’s tenure as athletic director, the stature and scope of Penn State athletics soared nationally. Tarman also was instrumental in leading Penn State’s women’s varsity programs from governance by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) to the NCAA, which began sponsoring women’s sports in 1982.

“I am saddened to hear of the loss of former Penn State Athletic Director Jim Tarman,” Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said in Penn State’s release. “Jim was a good friend and respected colleague who made a lasting impact on the Penn State community during his 36-year tenure in the athletics department, including the integral role he played in leading Penn State’s transition into the Big Ten Conference. Our thoughts are with his family, and the entire Penn State community, during this difficult time.”

Penn State captured six national championships under Tarman’s direction, including national titles in football in 1982 and 1986. The Nittany Lions also won NCAA championships in women’s lacrosse (1987, 1989) and men’s and women’s fencing (1990, 1991).

Working closely with Penn State President Bryce Jordan, football coach Joe Paterno and others, Tarman was instrumental in helping position the Nittany Lions for membership in the Big Ten Conference in 1989. The university was invited to the join the conference on June 4, 1990.

With the move from the Atlantic 10 Conference and as a football national independent to the Big Ten, Penn State’s programs became fully funded in scholarships, were able to add assistant coaches and staffing and facility upgrades began to enable the Nittany Lions to be more competitive with their new conference brethren and nationally.

The first of the Nittany Lions’ 104 Big Ten championships came in 1992, as the women’s volleyball program won the first of its 17 Big Ten titles. In the fall of 1993, the field hockey, men’s soccer and women’s volleyball squads all won Big Ten crowns under Tarman’s leadership. A year later, the football program won its first Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl, becoming the first Big Ten team to finish 12-0.

Penn State also won exactly 100 Atlantic 10, Eastern Wrestling League (EWL) and Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association championships and tournament titles under Tarman’s direction, with 23 sports transitioning to Big Ten competition by the time he retired.

A number of university coaches and athletic personnel spoke highly of Tarman’s contributions to Penn State.

“Jim cared deeply cared about our student-athletes, coaches, and everyone associated with Penn State Athletics,” said Charlene Morett-Curtiss, Penn State field hockey coach and former student-athlete. “Jim was especially supportive of the growth and development of the women’s programs at the time, which clearly led to our national prominence then and in the years to come. His passion and vision to maintain a broad-based athletic program embodies all that we treasure about competing for Penn State.”

“Jim Tarman was an outstanding administrator, exceptional publicist and one of the more important figures in the annals of Penn State sports,” said Budd Thalman, former Penn State Associate Athletic Director. “In his previous position as sports information director, Jim worked with cCoach Joe Paterno to enlarge the Nittany Lions media footprint beyond local and regional borders. The national reputation Penn State athletics enjoys today is largely the result of his effort and influence.”

“Those early years (as men’s basketball coach) were hard and I started to wonder whether it was meant to be,” former Penn State men’s basketball coach Bruce Parkhill said. “Jim was so unbelievable. He told me, ‘stay the course and keep doing what you’re doing.’ That meant the world to me; I can’t describe how much that meant to me then and still means to me today. He was a great guy to work for.”

Ernie Accorsi, former Penn State assistant sports publicity director and retired general manager of the New York Giants said, “I owe everything to Jim. I never would have made it in this league (NFL) without him. He was a teacher. He taught me organization and how to be an executive. No detail was too small. He had such integrity.”

Among the facilities projects completed or started under Tarman’s watch were Holuba Hall, a 10,033-seat expansion of Beaver Stadium, making it the nation’s second-largest facility, and construction of the University’s 15,200-seat Bryce Jordan Center, which opened in January 1996.

Tarman was inducted into the CoSIDA Hall of Fame in 1970. When Paterno was named Director of Athletics in 1980, Tarman’s responsibilities were expanded to cover the entire administrative range of Penn State’s athletic program. Tarman succeeded Paterno as AD in 1982.

Tarman was co-host of the popular “TV Quarterbacks,” the University’s statewide football TV program from 1967-82 and from 1971-79 he served as the analyst on the Penn State Football Radio Network.

During his later years as Sports Publicity Director, Tarman, legendary Penn State radio broadcaster Fran Fisher and Paterno criss-crossed the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, seeking media exposure for the football program, including radio stations to join the Penn State Radio Network, and building relationships with a media contingent that today ranks among the nation’s largest in college athletics.

A native of York, Tarman graduated from Gettysburg College in 1952. Tarman was a member of the U.S. Army from 1946-48 and was a civil war history buff. Tarman was an honorary alumnus of Penn State and a lifetime honorary member of the Penn Alumni Association.

Visitation will be held Thursday from 3-6 p.m. at Koch’s Funeral Home, 2401 S. Atherton St. in State College. The funeral service will be Friday at 11 a.m. at Grace Lutheran Church, 205 S. Garner St. in State College.

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