February 16, 2010
You want to know why Nolan Richardson hasn't found his way back into coaching college basketball despite all the success he had at Arkansas in the 90s? It's because of comments like the one you're about to read.
When CBS Sports' Mike Freeman asked the mastermind behind "40 minutes of Hell" why he's coaching the WNBA's Tulsa Shock while others have gotten a second chance in the college ranks, Richardson's response was blunt and tinged with bitterness.
"Black coaches, we're judged as a group and judged more harshly," Richardson explained. "White coaches are judged individually and usually more leniently."
Then he cited often overlooked black coaching pioneers like John McLendon and Clarence Gaines.
"No matter how well they did, the white power structure in college basketball mostly ignored them," Richardson said. "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."
Although Richardson certainly experienced the worst forms of bigotry as a kid barred from segregated El Paso swimming pools and movie theatres or as the first black player at Texas-Western, his frequent and haphazard charges of racism have nonetheless tarnished his coaching legacy. Arkansas cut Richardson loose in 2002 after he spoke out against fans and school officials for mistreating him because he's African-American, ultimately challenging athletic director Frank Boyles to fire him and buy out the rest of his contract.
I can't tell you whether the color of Richardson's skin has contributed to his exile. What I can tell you is that most of the coaches who have gotten second chances – both white and black – have two things in common that Richardson doesn't: contrition and humility.
Yes, there's Larry Eustachy and Bob Huggins, successful white coaches at Iowa State and Cincinnati who lost their jobs in the wake of national scandals only to resurface at Southern Mississippi and West Virginia respectively. But there's also African-American coaches who have reemerged like Morgan State's Todd Bozeman, fired at Cal in the mid-90s after committing major recruiting violations.
Should Richardson also get another chance at the Division I level? Based on his three Final Four appearances at Arkansas, the answer is an unequivocal yes.
But if you're an athletic director and your job is riding on hiring a coach who will win both on the basketball court and in the court of public opinion, then I can understand how the outspoken, anti-PC Richardson would not be the right choice.