Richardson firing' not quite normal

By By Stan Torgerson
March 7, 2002
When word came down on the AP wire about Nolan Richardson, I tried to remember whether I had ever seen the man smile. I hadn't, not once.
Richardson has been a perennially angry man, at officials, at his players, at his opponents and perhaps at himself.
You'll remember this started at a news conference when the Razorback coach denounced reporters and critical fans and said he was treated differently because he was black.
But if he has stained his reputation, so has chancellor John White of the university. I'm looking at an AP story datelined March 1. Quote. "A magazine's Internet site reported Wednesday that Richardson would be asked Thursday to quit for $3 million. White and (Richardson's agent) Kevin Scanlon disputed the report by Hawgs Illustrated, saying there was no effort being made to buy out the last six years on Richardson's contract."
This after a 90-minute meeting between Richardson and chancellor White and athletic director Frank Broyles. In view of the buyout just three days later, somebody was running a con job and it appears to be the chancellor and Richardson's agent.
The story continued, "Television station KATV in Little Rock reported that Richardson rejected an offer to buy out the remaining six years of his $1.03 million-a-year contract." This in the face of White's obvious false statement.
I'm not defending Nolan Richardson. I don't care for him and never have. But fair is fair and when the chancellor says they weren't trying to buy out the coach and a reputable TV station says they were, someone is lying or at the very least, mistaken.
To compound his attempt to coverup his previous obviously untrue statement, White followed with this one when it was confirmed that Richardson was being forced out.
Again from an AP story on March 3: "Chancellor White said Richardson wasn't fired for his outspokenness. In no way was it an action based on him speaking his mind … more because of a feeling that a time had come for a change,' White said at Saturday's Arkansas-Vanderbilt game which the Razorbacks won 81-67."
This about a man who had won an NCAA national championship, conference championships, tournament championships and had a record second to none in the SEC. Time for a change?
Did the chancellor really believe the people of his state were stupid enough to believe that line. Then he compounded his unbelievably bad handling of the situation with this one.
What else could they possibly think when the only black head coach on the university's staff gets fired after complaining he is being treated differently than the white ones?
This is not a defense of Richardson in any way. You would have had to be at these meetings to know what was really said by both parties. We weren't and we don't. Coach Richardson's remarks were not a credit to his good judgment either, but when university officials try to pull the wool over the eyes of the media and the public their conduct is equally bad, if not worse.
I lived through the mess when Ole Miss fired Billy Kinard and his brother, athletic director Bruiser Kinard, in the night after the third game of the 1973 season when then chancellor Porter Fortune couldn't find the strength to stand up to the Kinard's enemies. It set the Rebels' athletic programs back for years and, in my opinion, the timing was unjustified and unnecessary.
I still remember getting ready to do the football coaches' television show the morning after the first game of the season in which quarterback Norris Weese was hurt. Kinard came into the studio with a long look and when I asked what was wrong he said, "We don't have a quarterback. Norris won't be able to play for weeks and we just don't have another quarterback."
He was right. Without Weese the Rebels were not the same team. They lost to Missouri and Memphis State and the night of the Memphis State game, only the third game of the season, Billy and Bruiser were called to Fortune's house and fired. This was the same coach who in his first year, 1971, went 10-2 and took the Rebels to the Peach Bowl where he beat Georgia Tech 41-18.
Tuesday of this week the story broke that Richardson wants his job back and, if the case gets to court, his lawyer has said reinstatement will be part of any proposed settlement. The termination letter apparently "did not contain any reasons for his termination."
If that's true Arkansas is not going to get out of this thing for $3 million dollars. Six years remaining on Richardson's contract at over a million per year totals $6 million plus, anyway you look at it.
The money is bad enough but the real damage will be done by fractionalizing the support of alumni and the fans. I've been there and I've seen that. Winning coaches have strong bases of support and Richardson has always been a winner.
Chancellor White will find that like Humpty Dumpty, all the king's horses and all the king's men won't be able to put his university back together again, not for a long time.
But since his actions broke the egg, there's nobody else to blame.

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