Column: "The Sports Trail": 'Bulletproof' coach shot down after lip gets loose

Thursday, March 7, 2002

by David McNeal

I almost have a callous on my ear from hearing so much about the Nolan Richardson story.

You know. The one where he invited the University of Arkansas to pay him off, insulted everyone later at a news conference, then was taken up on his offer.

I've met Coach Richardson. Once. It was on the floor of Bud Walton Arena just before a practice. How long ago? Lenzie Howell was a new junior college recruit.

We talked about Texas ties, his in El Paso, mine in Dalhart in the Panhandle. We talked about his players and who we thought would make an impact that season.

Since then, about all I know is what I read in the papers, and what I see on television.

I haven't liked what I've seen or read the last three or four years.

Nolan Richardson let things slide, and his frustration won out. Should he still be Arkansas' coach?

Nope. Even his son, Nolan Richardson III, said in an interview, "To me, he just didn't want to coach anymore, so it's not really a surprise. It was time. He was tiring."

Right now, Coach Richardson is hurting. Doesn't matter whether he invited the situation or not, this is a very painful time.

It's really not about the money. He has plenty. And the university has agreed to honor his contract and pay him $500,000 a year for the next six years.

Not bad pay for hanging around the house, or playing golf, or playing with your horses. Not to mention the possibility of paid speaking engagements.

But being sent out the door, and having to say goodbye to kids you've worked with and for, man, that's tough.

I've done it several times, mostly by choice. Once wasn't. You'll never guess. Yes, it was my big mouth.

I was convinced I had all the answers, and had them for everyone. And when I wouldn't listen to good advice, I found out I wasn't indispensable.

I didn't get the axe quickly like Nolan did. I was voted out in the spring, and had to finish the last few months of high school knowing I wouldn't be working with that particular group of kids again.

That was more than 25 years ago. It isn't a painful memory any more, but I remember it clearly.

I really missed the kids that I had to leave behind, and regretted not sharing another year or two with them.

But the real reason it stopped being painful is because I learned that situation was my fault, and I could easily have avoided it.

According to what I have read over the years, Coach Richardson has been a prickly personality since his arrival in 1985. He's gone off before, and it's been reported before.

The pressure is bad enough when you are coaching at the high school level, so it has to be unreal at the level where Richardson has been for the last 17 years.

He's been successful, including a salary of more than a million dollars a year and a national championship. But he isn't the only person that can, and has, coached at the University of Arkansas.

Eddie Sutton did pretty good, and whoever comes in next will also. There's 20,000-seat Bud Walton Arena, a national reputation, the great fans, and statewide support like no other school in the state has.

Believe me. Coaches will flock with resumes, good ones. Nolan's old job will be sought by many.

And whoever gets the job will be successful if he remembers that old saying: "There's just two kinds of coaches. The ones that have been fired, and the ones that are gonna be fired."

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