Richardson's 17-year tenure at Arkansas ends

Richardson's 17-year tenure at Arkansas ends

Associated Press

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- The University of Arkansas bought out Nolan Richardson's contract Friday, saying it would pay the coach up to $3 million over the next six years to have him quit as basketball coach.

Richardson's departure, ending a stellar 17 years at Arkansas that included a national championship, comes after a tumultuous seven days touched off by his criticism of reporters and fans and complaints that he's treated differently because he is black.

"We believe it's time for a change in leadership for the best interests of the basketball program," said Athletic Director Frank Broyles.

Richardson had no comment and referred questions to Little Rock civil rights attorney John Walker, whom the coach hired this week.

Arkansas had the option of buying out Richardson's contract for $500,000 for each of the remaining six years of a seven-year contract. Sports Information Director Kevin Trainor said a clause in the pact would allow the school to stop paying if the coach took a job with another school.

Chancellor John White said outside his office Friday night that Richardson has until noon Monday to ask system President Alan Sugg to review the decision.

"I asked him if it was a civil rights issue and he said, 'No,"' White said. "I still believe that we resolved this amicably. I hope that Coach Richardson sees it that way too."

Broyles said the school would begin seeking a replacement when appropriate and that Richardson assistant Mike Anderson would take over as interim coach. White said Friday night that Anderson will be a candidate for the permanent position, ESPN's Ed Werder reported.

Arkansas plays Vanderbilt on Saturday in its final regular-season game. It also will play in the Southeastern Conference tournament. At 13-14, it is unlikely the team would make the NCAA tournament, but an NIT bid might be possible with a victory or two in the conference tournament.

Walker and Richardson agent Kevin Scanlon met with a pair of university system lawyers in Little Rock for an hour Friday afternoon and afterward Walker said Richardson's status was in the school's hands.

About 90 minutes later, the university said it had told Richardson to leave.

White, who had been considered a Richardson supporter, said the decision was difficult.

"He has made many valuable contributions to the University of Arkansas and has provided exemplary service to causes and charities throughout the state," White said in the school's statement. "His legacy will last forever, but it is now time to look to the future."

Members of the school's board of trustees were notified of the decision after it was made. Trustee J. Thomas "Tommy" May said he supported it.

"We regret the turmoil that surrounds this decision, but sometimes change is in the best interest of all parties," May said. "I think that Coach Richardson has given us 17 years of great basketball here in Arkansas ... and certainly we all hate that it must end in this manner."

Mike Nail, the play-by-play announcer for Razorback basketball, said he talked to Richardson shortly after the coach had been notified that he was no longer coach. Asked about Richardson's mood, Nail said, "It's not real good. He told me he is not ready to make a statement."

Joe Kleine, a former Arkansas and NBA player who does color commentary on Arkansas broadcasts, said the school was hurt by Richardson's comments and by his release.

"His leaving will hurt recruiting, but what he said Monday hurt it too. It was a no-win situation," said Kleine, who played at Arkansas from 1983-85. "You hate to see it happen to someone who has done so much for the program."

In 22 years as a head coach, including five years at Tulsa, Richardson has a 508-206 record. He has led the Razorbacks to the postseason in all but one of his 16 previous seasons. Arkansas made the NCAA tournament 15 times, winning the title in 1994.

His Arkansas teams won five conference championships -- three in the Southwest Conference and two in the SEC. The Razorbacks also won three SWC tournaments and one SEC tournament.

"We are grateful to Coach Richardson for his many contributions to the program over his tenure," a statement from the university said.

Richardson has often been controversial.

Amid a flap with Broyles in 2000, guard Jason Gilbert, who is white, quit the team after being labeled by assistant coach Nolan Richardson Jr. as "part of the problem" with the team. Richardson said he told his son he didn't have to put up with undetermined "redneck SOBs."

In 1995, Richardson called critics a pair of crude names after his team, the defending national champion, lost to Alabama and fell to 15-4. Arkansas was ranked No. 9 at the time.

In a New York Daily News article on the difficulties of being a black coach in the South, Richardson said in 1994 that, "If I was white and I did what I've done here, they'd build statues to me. ... Eddie Sutton did the same thing here and he became God."

His recent remarks that he is treated differently because he is black drew the chancellor's attention after they were aired on national television.

He said at a news conference Monday that he was not answerable to fans or to the media, but his agent said later the remarks were directed at the small percentage of hard-to-please Razorback supporters.

Broyles, White and Richardson met for 90 minutes Thursday and the lawyers discussed the coach's case Friday. After Thursday's meeting, Richardson canceled his regularly scheduled news conference and skipped practice.

Richardson said Thursday during the Southeastern Conference coaches' teleconference that he wanted to remain as coach.

"I enjoy where I am. I've worked extremely hard. We've got a good recruiting class coming in next year," he said. "I had made those promises to the families, and so my interest has always been high in coaching. At this point, I still love the game."

The coach raised the possibility of a buyout last Saturday in Lexington, Ky. In discussing pressure on him and Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, who also is black, Richardson said: "If they go ahead and pay me my money, they can take the job tomorrow."

White said he chalked Richardson's comments up to frustration over a difficult season. But as the effects of the comments lingered, White said that Richardson's most recent remarks harmed the university and that he couldn't guarantee the coach's job was secure.

"There has been a lot of damage overall to the program. Coach Richardson recognizes that," White said late Wednesday.

At Tulsa and Western Texas Junior College, he won NIT and national junior college titles.