You're probably familiar with Nolan Richardson's story, though if you're under the age of, oh, 25, you might have missed it while you were doodling on your Power Rangers Trapper Keeper, so here's a brief recap: Richardson built Arkansas into a national power in the 1990s. He won a national title in 1994 and lost in the final in 1995, thanks largely to his 40 Minutes Of Hell system, which featured, much like spiritual descendant Mike Anderson at Missouri, 40 minutes of pressing, trapping, all-out basketball on both ends of the floor.
The style and its success made Richardson something of a coaching legend, but his story did not end happily: In 2002, Richardson called out UA's players and fans for mistreating him because he was African-American. He challenged Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles to fire him and buy out the rest of his contract. In the words of Aldo Raine, Broyles obliiiiiiiged him. Richardson sued the school; his suit was dismissed in 2004. Since then, Richardson has coached the Panamanian and Mexican national teams, followed by his most recent gig -- the head coach of the WNBA's Tulsa Shock.
We haven't heard much from Nolan since the end of his Arkansas tenure. That is, until Monday, when CBS columnist Mike Freeman got Richardson on the record about his dismissal, and, yeah, Richardson has a few grudges. Some of the choicer quotes from the column:
"I loved the game and what happened at Arkansas -- for a little while -- drained my love of the game," said Richardson, who has released a new book about his life called Forty Minutes of Hell. "My love of basketball is back now," he says, "but it's been a very long ride."
"I'm sure that after what happened to me at the University of Arkansas, I became, in the eyes of the guys who do the hiring and firing in college basketball, an uppity guy," said Richardson. "I don't apologize for how I conducted myself at Arkansas. I was not a 'Yes sir, no sir' type of man. All these years, athletic directors, I think, see me as someone with baggage.
"But look around. Look at some of the coaches who have gotten hired since I was let go. If I have baggage, what do they have?"
"The difference is perception," Richardson explained, "black coaches, we're judged as a group, and judged more harshly. White coaches are judged individually and usually more leniently."
"No matter how well they did the white power structure in college basketball mostly ignored them," said Richardson. "If McLendon had been white, he'd have been a star in the coaching world. If all the great coaches in basketball history like [Bob] Knight or [John] Wooden had been black, they'd be nobodies."
Oh boy. Do you guys feel that? Things just got awkward.
Richardson's points are simultaneously valid and horribly bitter. As for his own career, Richardson may or may not have had a point about being discriminated against in 2002, but he certainly didn't handle it well. Daring your boss to fire you is usually not the best way to manage your professional life. Nor is taking such grievances public. If Richardson had a problem with the way he was being treated by the school and by the public, he needed to do two separate things: 1) Filter his school-related complaints to the appropriate private channels, and 2) Realize that the public isn't going to cut you any breaks no matter what you say, and that complaining about treatment, however valid the complaint, is a recipe for even more bad treatment. Did they not have celebrities in 2002?
Instead, Richardson freaked out, and a firing and buyout was the result. However he was treated, it's hard to feel too much sympathy here.
As for his points about black coaches, well, again -- bitter, but not invalid. Richardson's right about John McLendon, a coaching pioneer who was overlooked for the majority of his career specifically because he was African-American. (The 2008 ESPN documentary "Black Magic" told McLendon's tale.) Richardson's probably incorrect about Bob Knight and John Wooden, or at least I'd like to think so. But few would attempt to argue that until recently black coaches have had a major struggle getting recognition and status in college basketball. This is not a controversial point. (Though to be fair, college basketball's hiring practices look downright enlightened when compared to college football's.)
Anyway, the point is, if Richardson wants to coach college basketball again -- Freeman believes he deserves another shot -- he should. Plenty of other coaches have committed far worse crimes and received far less ostracism; Richardson's only crime is not knowing when to cut his losses. But if the master of 40 Minutes Of Hell does want another college hoops job, he would do well to table these sort of shock-jock, I've-got-a-book-to-sell quotes for good. He owes himself that much.