Tulsa hires Richardson as coach

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Investors trying to bring a WNBA franchise to Tulsa said Tuesday that they have hired Nolan Richardson to be the coach -- if the city is able to secure a team.

ESPN.com and the Tulsa World first reported the hiring on Monday.

Richardson, who signed a three-year deal, said his first job will be trying to help the group of investors led by Oklahoma City businessmen David Box and Bill Cameron secure the additional support they need for the WNBA to grant the city an expansion franchise.

"In order to have a team, you've got to have people working," Richardson told The Associated Press. "Hopefully them hiring a coach will send a message that they are very serious."

Box said a decision could be made about whether Tulsa will have a franchise by the first week of October, but that "we sure wouldn't have named Nolan Richardson as the coach if we didn't feel positive about it."

Richardson remains popular in Tulsa, where he won the National Invitation Tournament in 1981 with the Golden Hurricane. He later moved to Arkansas, guiding the Razorbacks to the NCAA title in 1994 and a national runner-up finish the following season. He won more than 500 games at Tulsa and Arkansas.

He's never coached women's basketball, but Richardson said he has few doubts that his famed "40 Minutes of Hell" style will translate to the WNBA, noting the up-tempo style of the Phoenix Mercury, who are in the league's championship series.

"Girls are so skilled now," he said. "They have such great fundamentals. They can all shoot the ball pretty good, shoot free throws. All of them look like they can put it on the floor."

Richardson was Arkansas' coach for 17 seasons, but was fired in 2002 after he said toward the end of a frustrating season, "If they go ahead and pay me my money, they can take the job tomorrow." Since then, he's coached the national teams of Panama and Mexico -- the latter in 2007 -- and in recent years has worked as a public speaker and a traveling basketball consultant.

"They ask me, 'Do I miss basketball?' Sure I do, because of the fact that I used my practice time as teaching and as a classroom," he said. "You miss that as opposed to missing the games. I'm looking forward to get back to the things I enjoyed the most. It's not working to me. Most people I know who love a job don't ever retire."

Box said there was "no second choice" as far as a coach for the prospective WNBA team.

"How could you not dig Nolan Richardson? He's such a charismatic guy," Box said. "He's so positive and he's such a good guy and he's a great basketball coach."

Box said the hiring of Richardson should be a signal to potential sponsors, investors and ticket buyers that "we are 100 percent serious" about bringing a WNBA team to Oklahoma's second-largest city.

"The investors have put a lot of energy into this," he said. "We are here to win and have a great team."

He said ticket sales would be a key factor in the decision. He said about 15 suites have been sold at the BOK Center, where the team would play, and "we'd like to sell 15 more." Two major sponsors, which he did not name, are on board.

"We're going out in the community to get some more," he said. "That takes time."

Richardson's name recognition alone should sell tickets, Box said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.