[Update, Dec. 9: Tarr has been arrested and charged with felony eavesdropping.]
Ken Tarr reached out to us first. Without any prompting, this was the email we received from him yesterday:
From: Kenny Tarr
Sent: 4:22 PM EDT
Subject: Hi I hoaxed Tony Dungy
call me [phone number redacted] Here is a video of me offering Mark Jackson the Lakers job. It is a matter of time till I make headline news again with my sports hoaxes.
Here are my other entertainment related hoaxes. http://www.villagevoice.com/2013-06-05/new…
There was no video attached. I called the phone number. Tarr and I had the first of two phone conversations yesterday. A total of 17 minutes elapsed between the end of that first conversation and the start of our second. As soon as I got him on the line again—and before I could even ask him a question—Tarr told me what he had done in the meantime.
"I just left three messages for the San Diego Chargers, and I'm expecting to hear back from them at any moment," he said. "I want to hear what you have to say, but I'm offering John Pagano interest in the University of Texas job. I'm offering Ken Whisenhunt something, uh, I just wrote down. And my next thing is, I'm trying to reach Will Muschamp and just offer him some defensive coordinator position for some small school, to see if he gets insulted or not."
This is what Ken Tarr does. He's a 32-year-old college dropout who creates hoaxes that ripple out into the world beyond his Los Angeles home. His method is simple: He calls the offices of major companies and leaves the right voicemail message for the right person and waits for that person to call him back. He gained a measure of fame a few months back when the Village Voice chronicled his ability to fabricate storylines that would get him onto a variety of daytime television shows, which he would then sabotage. In recent weeks, Tarr has turned his attention toward sports.
He claims to be the prankster who caused a minor shitstorm in recent days by phoning Tony Dungy and Jack Del Rio to offer them the head coaching position at USC. Tarr pulled off the stunt so well that Dungy went on The Dan Patrick Show on Monday and admitted that USC had contacted him. Which, in turn, led USC to issue a statement acknowledging that an impostor had called Dungy, and that whoever it was had also reached out to the Denver Broncos to gauge interest.
USC also said in the statement it knew who had made the calls. Tarr told me that was because he later played the prank off itself. Posing as an NBC executive, he called USC to ask why the school was trying to poach Dungy.
"They made a bunch of empty, base-level threats saying they were going to sue me," Tarr said. "Everybody does. But no one ever has the balls to go through with it."
Tarr told me he's made maybe 35 calls to sports figures in the past week or so. "It's basically a new frontier for me," he said. "I'm amazed that they're returning any of these calls." He said he often likes to record the conversations, California law be damned. He rattled off a list of the coaches he said he's called: Mike Riley, Sonny Dykes, Dabo Swinney, Jay Gruden, David Shaw. Tarr also said he had called Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson to dangle the Lakers' job. To prove it, he sent me a video recording of that phone conversation:
Here's a partial transcript:
Tarr: I work as a liaison whenever there's a head coach opening for a variety of different people. I'm more of a consultant, and at this point I've been hired from the L.A. Lakers to explore a variety of different candidates for the heach-coaching position beyond this season. It's a complicated issue because it's not something that a lot of people can fully discuss their availability, and I'm just trying to gauge interest at this point in seeing as things will progress—
Jackson: Yeah, obviously you know how sensitive an issue this is. You work for a company or you work as an individual?
Tarr: I work as an individual. I respect that, Mark. I'll have people reach out to you at the proper time.
Last night, Tarr texted me:
I just offered spoke to ken whisenhunt about the Texas job. He expresses interest.
And a few minutes later:
I like ken whisenhunt and will send some others soon. I am trying for coughlin and Andy Reid. I don't think it would reflect bad on whisenhunt but it is a good call
Moments later, this video landed in my inbox. It's Tarr talking to San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. Tarr asks Whisenhunt for his thoughts on the Texas job, and Whisenhunt makes it clear to him he's interested:
Another partial transcript:
Whisenhunt: And what kind of position are you talking about?
Tarr: Well, it's been talked about quite a bit about Mack Brown, and unfortunately, Mr. Dodds is going to be resigning. The potential is maybe, you know, for you to lead the program. I wanted to first, like, reach out. Eventually, of course, Mr. Dodds will be calling himself. I'm actually in Los Angeles, and I was going to maybe see about arranging to go down to San Diego in the next couple days. Like I said, I don't want to create a stir or anything. I'm just basically trying to gauge whether or not you've got a passion for Longhorn football at all.
Whisenhunt: Sure. Sure, I think it's a great program. I've got a lot of respect. I've had a lot number of guys in my program. Sam Acho is one of the guys that played under me, and I have a lot of respect for the program, and certainly the history of it. So, absolutely.
Tarr: Excellent, excellent, great. Well, I like a lot of what you're doing with the young man from Chadron State—Woodhead—and I keep following the team, and as it will progress I think we'll probably be reaching out to a lot of different candidates. I'll make it very clear that you're the one that I would like to select, and we'll go from there.
Whisenhunt: Sounds good.
About 30 minutes after that, I got another email from Tarr:
From: Kenny Tarr
To: Dom Cosentino
I want Norm Chow and Ken Whisenhunt, two great offensive minds to get a consideration for big jobs so I hope these calls give them some confidence to pursue and shoot for bigtime college or pro jobs
Attached to the email was a recording of Tarr asking Hawai'i coach Norm Chow about becoming an offensive consultant with the New York Giants:
The partial transcript:
Chow: You've got to forgive me, but I don't follow NFL football.
Tarr: I'll get to the reason, basically, Norm. Mr. Coughlin's got a lot of respect for you and Jerry Reese has got a lot of respect. What we really want is, we've got to bring in someone as a consultant. And if we make a run, let's just say—we're 0-5 now, if we can get to .500, it would be close to the end of the year for when your Hawai'i season's ending, notwithstanding a New Year's Day bowl game. But we're getting into a situation where we just want to be able to bring someone in and evaluate what we're doing in practice because there's something breaking down. It's like we're getting this Super Bowl hangover a year later.
Chow: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, you know, I'd be honored. Obviously, our season is pretty quick. So if something were to come up, I'd be honored.
Tarr: OK, great. I'm probably pretty low on the depth chart here or the totem pole, but I'm a real proponent of what you've done with offense. I know that Eli's kind of got tunnel vision at this point. Do you see that when you see with Eli? Do you see that there's something off with it right now. I can't put my finger on it. And … yeah.
Chow: You know what? I'll pay more attention. I'll pay more attention.
In conversation, Tarr speaks deliberately, as if his mouth were trying to keep up with all the words shooting out from his brain. He talks in rolling sheets of words. He veers into tangents and occasionally gets lost in them.
How does he explain himself?
"I haven't been given enough respect," he says.
"What I do is far beyond irreverent," he says.
"I'm like the world's most safe criminal," he says.
"I'm still the craziest person I've ever met," he says.
Tarr said his hoaxes are a way of exposing the "bullshit" and "arrogance" that's built into the sports and entertainment industries, both in what it takes for creative types to get ahead and in how it's all packaged and sold to the public.
He tells me: "I like that these teams are so arrogant that they set up these press conferences where reporters have to ask these polite questions just so the teams can feed them bullshit by saying whatever they want that's going to make the team look good. I can have my own press conference on my couch."
At another point, he launches into a soliloquy, sounding like another stymied creative trying to find himself in Los Angeles: "For my whole life, you've been told that if you're a creative person or you're good at writing or you're good at creating things, there's a certain way you've got to go about getting ahead. You've got to send your work to publishing companies, you've got to send them in to agencies. You've got to send in an envelope—I don't like doing that. These are all things that I don't think—I think that they're just there as a way of policing and getting creative people to basically fall in line.
"What I look at is that is the entire world is a screenplay, and I think this is kind of interesting to just basically draw up my own playbook. Where it will end up, I don't know. I'm not going to end up in any trouble, I'll tell you that much, because what I'm doing is too fucking funny for anyone to really care that much about it at the end of the day. I'm not wanting other people to necessarily do this because it could create a lot of other crazy situations—I know how far to push things or how far not to push things, but others don't. Others are just going to go off the handle and just make crazy calls. These are crazy, but I'm not mentioning any of the key red-flag words, ever. So at the end of the day, I may just end up doing what I do my whole life."
He kept going in this vein during our second phone conversation yesterday. "Why I do this is just all self-promotion at the end of the day," he said, continuing to talk before I could ask another question. We talked for a few more minutes. After we hung up, Ken Tarr called me a short while later and asked what he would have to do to get a job at Deadspin.