Richardson, 71, has ‘moved on’

By: Jeff Halpern
Published: Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Former Arkansas men’s basketball Coach Nolan Richardson urges everyone to show patience with Razorbacks Coach Mike Anderson and believes he will turn the program around.
Photo by Karen E. Segrave
Former Arkansas men’s basketball Coach Nolan Richardson urges everyone to show patience with Razorbacks Coach Mike Anderson and believes he will turn the program around.

— Time has a way of healing wounds.

Eleven years after an acrimonious firing from Arkansas and nine years after losing a lawsuit against the UA when he claimed he was racially discriminated against and his freedom of speech violated, former Arkansas men’s basketball Coach Nolan Richardson received a standing ovation Monday from most of the sellout crowd at the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce when he spoke to the Downtown Tip-Off Club.

“I’ve learned that life is short and when things are over, they’re over,” Richardson, 71, said. “People ask me if I hate [former Arkansas Athletic Director] Frank Broyles and I don’t hate him. I didn’t like him at the time. I’ve moved on and have things to do.”

When asked again about his firing after the luncheon, Richardson said Broyles did what he had to do.

Richardson was fired after issuing what Broyles took as an ultimatum after a Feb. 23, 2002, loss to Kentucky: “If they go ahead and pay me my money, they can take the job tomorrow.”

Richardson was fired on March 1, six days after making the statement.

Similarly, Richardson said current Athletic Director Jeff Long did what he had to do when he fired football Coach Bobby Petrino on April 10. Both coaches were enormously successful, though Richardson’s popularity had slipped in the eight years he continued on at Arkansas after winning the 1994 national championship.

Petrino’s departure was just as sudden but the circumstances were much different. Petrino lied to Long about being alone in a motorcycle accident that involved Jessica Dorrell, with whom he had an extramarital affair along with giving her a $20,000 cash gift and a job in the football office.

“There’s no way they could have kept him,” Richardson said of Petrino. “Jeff had to make the greatest decision he’s ever had to make.”

Richadson said he’s grateful for the fact Long reached out to him back in 2008 and planned for the 1994 championship team to be honored in 2009, which, he said, ultimately led the way for his former assistant Mike Anderson to be hired in 2011.

“Jeff did a great job and those players, who had nothing to do with my departure, got their chance to be honored,” Richardon said.

Richardson spoke at length about Anderson, who’s 28-19 in his second year since being hired away from Missouri.

“I enjoy watching Mike as he develops a team to get to those magic numbers of the Final Four and Sweet 16,” Richardson told the audience. “I know a lot of people want him to be me, but he can’t be me. Patience is a virtue. We have to be patient and give him the time he needs to build this program.

“I was honored when he asked me if I could come to some of the games. I know the thing he tries to teach them is, ‘Tell me why you won? Tell me why you lost? And what have you learned.’ ”

Richardson said he believes Anderson will get the Razorbacks back to making the NCAA Tournament on a regular basis. (The Razorbacks haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since the 2007-2008 season when they lost to North Carolina in the second round. Under Richardson, Arkansas made the NCAA Tournament 13 times, going to three Final Fours.)

“It was hard to see what happened over the years because you no longer heard Arkansas’ name mentioned as one of the best teams in the country,” Richardson said. “I used to hear about it from a lot of people and when you see the empty seats on television, it’s tough.”

Arkansas’ 56-33 victory over Vanderbilt might have been difficult for some fans to watch, but Richardson said he was proud that the Razorbacks held Vanderbilt to 25 percent shooting, including 13 percent on three-pointers, and forced 26 turnovers.

“That’s why I called our style of play 40 minutes of hell,” Richardson said. “We could be hell on offense and hell on defense, but we made opposing teams’ lives pure hell.”

One thing this Arkansas team needs, Richardson said, is more effective outside shooting.

As a team, Arkansas is shooting 46.1 percent from the floor, including 31.5 percent on three-pointers. Kikko Haydar leads the team at 54.5 percent (12 of 22). Marshawn Powell is second at 44.8 percent (13 of 29).

“People used to give me grief about Blake [Eddins, who was in attendance], but Blake could do one thing very well and that’s shoot the basketball,” Richardson said. “That’s why I recruited Pat Bradley.

“Let me ask you one question, ‘How many great shooters do we have on the hill?’ The one great shooter we’ve had is [Rotnei] Clarke and now he’s at Butler.

“Some of these people don’t realize regardless of how great you play defense, you still need to put the ball in the hole.”

Sports, Pages 15 on 01/15/2013