Former Penn State Athletic Director Jim Tarman passes

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics mourns the passing of former Director of Athletics Jim Tarman, who led the Nittany Lions’ transition into the Big Ten Conference. He 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 on Dec. 31, 1993.

“The Penn State Athletics family is saddened with the passing of Jim Tarman,” said Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour. “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 director of athletics, the stature and scope of Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics soared nationally, facilities for Nittany Lion student-athletes expanded, and Penn State joined the nation’s most prestigious conference — the Big Ten.

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,” said Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany. “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.”

Six national championships, 100 conference titles and Big Ten membership

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 former Penn State President Bryce Jordan, former head 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 Big Ten presidents voted to admit Penn State in December 1989, and the University was officially 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.

Penn State began Big Ten competition in some sports in 1991-92. 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.

In addition to the NCAA and Big Ten championships, Penn State also won exactly 100 Atlantic 10, Eastern Wrestling League (EWL) and Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (EIVA) championships and tournament titles under Tarman’s direction, with 23 sports transitioning to Big Ten competition by 1993-94. In the fall of 1994, Penn State launched a varsity women’s soccer program that has won 18 Big Ten championships.

“Jim cared deeply about our student-athletes, coaches and everyone associated with Penn State Athletics,” stated Charlene Morett-Curtiss, Penn State field hockey head 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.”

Holuba Hall, Beaver Stadium expansion and Bryce Jordan Center construction

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 arrived at Penn State in 1958 and served 12 years as sports publicity director, earning induction into the CoSIDA Hall of Fame in 1970. He was appointed assistant to the athletic director in 1970 and in 1973 was promoted to associate athletic director with primary responsibilities in public affairs, development, fundraising, and alumni and public relations. 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 on March 1, 1982.

“Louise and Jim brought skill, talent and dedication to Penn State,” said Sue Paterno. “They became good friends, not only to us, but to the entire athletic family as we joined the Big Ten. The best part was the love and fun we shared.”

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 crisscrossed 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. More than 50 radio stations are affiliates of the Penn State Sports Network.

“Jim Tarman was a wonderful ambassador for Penn State and a true gentleman,” said Dave Baker, Penn State associate athletic director. “The landscape of collegiate athletics 50 years ago was completely different than it is today, and Jim worked tirelessly across the state, the region and the country to promote Penn State. He set a great example in media relations and athletic administration for many of us, including myself. Many people ‘knew’ him from ‘TV Quarterbacks’ and the Penn State Radio Network broadcasts, but his work behind the scenes was even more valuable for the Penn State community.

“Jim and his wife, Louise, were a wonderful partnership for the University and Athletics families. To this day, I still re-tell several of Jim’s colorful stories, and they all are reflective of the wonderful friendships he enjoyed.”

In 2012, a plaque commemorating Tarman’s contributions to Penn State was placed in the Beaver Stadium press box, along with a dedication ceremony in the Penn State All-Sports Museum.

Tarman matriculated to Penn State from Princeton University, where he served as sports information director and assistant public information director. Prior to Princeton, Tarman was public relations director at his alma mater, Gettysburg College, for four years. He also was on the staff of the Harrisburg Patriot-News for one year.

A native of York, Pennsylvania, Tarman graduated from Gettysburg College in 1952, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He was a member of the Gettysburg College board of trustees for 12 years, and in 1992 he was named a Gettysburg College Distinguished Alumnus. 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.

Tarman is survived by his wife, Louise, sons Jim and Jeff, both of whom are Penn State graduates, Jim’s wife, Elizabeth Vastine, and one grandchild, Emilie.

Visitation will be held from 3-6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 4, at Koch’s Funeral Home, 2401 S. Atherton Street in State College. The funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, Jan. 5, at Grace Lutheran Church, 205 S. Garner Street in State College.

Arrangements are under the care of Koch Funeral Home in State College. Online condolences and signing of the guest book may be entered at

In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts can be made to two scholarships in the names of Jim and Louise Tarman:

Memorial donations for the Jim and Louise Tarman Football Scholarship, made payable to Penn State University, may be mailed to: Janine Hawk, 149 Bryce Jordan Center, University Park, PA 16802.  

Memorial donations for the James and Louise Tarman Endowed Scholarship Fund at Gettysburg College, made payable to Gettysburg College, may be mailed to: Gettysburg College, Campus Box 423, 300 North Washington Street, Gettysburg, PA 17325.

Last Updated January 03, 2018