Richardson had never shied away from provocative accusations of racial inequality, but at these conferences he unleashed more vitriol than ever. After a loss in Lexington, KY, he said he’d leave the university if the remainder of his $7.21 million contract was bought out. The worst of it came in Fayetteville:
”When I look at all of you people in this room, I see no one who looks like me, talks like me or acts like me,” he said to the white reporters in front of him.
”Now, why don’t you recruit? Why don’t the editors recruit like I’m recruiting?”
Richardson, the only black among the Fayetteville campus’s 17 head coaches according to the New York Times, also said he was treated differently because of his race.
”See, my great-great-grandfather came over on the ship, I didn’t,” he said. ”And I don’t think you understand what I’m saying. My great-great-grandfather came over on the ship. Not Nolan Richardson.”
”I did not come over on that ship, so I expect to be treated a little bit different. Because I know for a fact that I do not play on the same level as the other coaches around this school play on.”
In the ESPNU video, former Arkansas chancellor John White says Nolan’s anger had boiled to a point that it could burn the university:
“It was important for me that he send the message that he was happy at the University of Arkansas. Because people all over the state–particularly African Americans in this state–were watching Coach Richardson and they were making decisions about whether their sons and daughters should come to the University of Arkansas to go to school.”
“In the end, Richardson’s greatest strength became his ultimate undoing,” Bradburd says. “We can never escape ourselves and what made him a great coach was this us-against-the-world mentality.”
Richardson was fired on March 1, 2002. In December, he fired back at the university with an $8 million race discrimination lawsuit; that would be dismissed in July, 2004.
To this day, the dust is clearing.
But in the last few years, sunlight is streaming in once more.
The healing began with a 2009 reunion of the ‘94 team, an event which helped players from the Richardson era feel once again invested in the university. That triggered a long-needed thawing, former Razorback John Engsgov (1992-1996) told ESPNU:
“I think that’s the sad part. There was a 10-year period of really a lost connection between guys who worked their tail off for success at the University of Arkansas and their connection to the university. Not that they weren’t welcome–there was just always that friction of ‘We’ve moved on to something different.’”
In March 2011, Mike Anderson was hired as Arkansas’ coach. Anderson, who had played for Richardson at Tulsa in the early 1980s, had the full endorsement of his mentor. It was support he earned early on:
“You never had to say anything to Mike. You never had to say ‘Hey, you’ve got to pick it up. You’ve got to run a little harder.’ Never, because he was always out front with whatever he was gonna do.”—Richardson
On the whole, this video is well edited, full of interesting insight and worth watching. With a dual focus as UA promotion and Nolan biography, it doesn’t have much room to spare.
Still, it needs more.
I would have replaced some of the non-game footage, stylized basketball scenes with some of the following, based on availability:
1) An interview with Frank Broyles—the former UA athletic director hired Nolan, making him the first black head coach of a major college sports program in the South. To say the two had a rocky relationship would be an understatement, and Richardson accused him of racist comments, according to the 40 Minutes of Hell book. As the face of Arkansas athletics for decades, though, Broyles deserves more screen time than a few shots of him entering a federal courthouse for the 2004 discrimination trial.
2) An interview with Nolan’s wife Rose Davila—The video does a fine job explaining why Nolan’s grandmother and youngest daughter were two hugely influential females in his life. Why not get more insight from another hugely important woman—his own wife?
3) Some more background on the specific pressures mounting on Richardson before the 2002 firing—it wasn’t only wins and losses, after all. Abysmally low graduation rates for his players had also become a concern. This issue merited at least a mention.
40 Minutes of Hell debuts at 9 p.m. EST on February 11 on ESPNU.