Richardson does cause no favors

March 01, 2002|By Mike Preston

THE MAN HAS NOT changed over the years, and neither has his message.

When Arkansas basketball coach Nolan Richardson went on his tirade Monday, his statements about the university needing more diversity were consistent with the theme he has preached from when the Razorbacks were a power in the 1990s until now, when the team is struggling to make the NCAA tournament with a 13-14 record.

There have been suggestions that Richardson is playing the race card, which is a typical response these days whenever an African-American brings up the issue of race. There is no such thing; no 1-800 hot line to Johnnie Cochran.

It's about as ridiculous as the Good Ol' Boy network card.

In this situation, both parties should take a good look in the mirror. In the case of Richardson, he needs to take some courses in anger management and find a dock to park his ego.

As for university officials, they need to start paying attention. All Richardson has done is take the Razorbacks to 14 out of the past 15 NCAA tournaments, including three Final Four appearances and one national championship.

When he speaks, somebody should listen, especially in Fayetteville, Ark., which could use some social enlightment.

To understand Richardson, you have to know about his impoverished background, how he couldn't go to certain places as a kid in Texas because blacks weren't allowed. In college, he was the only black player at Texas Western. He was a trail blazer, always being the first black whenever he became head coach at any level, including Tulsa and Arkansas.

He has always fought against racism, declaring that standarized tests were unfair to minorities, and stating that African-American coaches were judged by tougher standards. He has always been combative.

Gruff, nasty at times, but always blunt. That's Richardson.

So it was no surprise that Richardson delivered a diatribe Monday. He was going to erupt sooner or later. But there were some truths.

There is still a faction of old-guard alumni who dislike Richardson, because he is black and because he replaced Eddie Sutton, who is white and bolted for Kentucky.

At the news conference Monday, Richardson complained about the need for more diversity at the school, an issue that would help recruiting. It makes perfect sense. A lot of universities have provided various organizations and events for different ethnic and religious groups.

Other black coaches, such as Kentucky's Tubby Smith and Indiana's Mike Davis, as well as past and present Division I black football coaches, have pointed out that colleges need to do more in this area.

The university needs to do an inventory.

Fayetteville, a city of 55,000, is predominantly white. The university employs 17 white coaches. Richardson is the only black.

"Actually, he is right," said Ben Beaumont, who is white and sports editor of The Traveler, the school's newspaper. "This is not an environment that accommodates the black student."

Maybe now that will change. Hopefully, in a way, so will Richardson. His message is fine, but he can trim a little off the ego and paranoia. He has indicated some members of the media have criticized him unfairly. Maybe. Who knows?

But in this situation, the criticism is justified because his team is losing and he's making $1 million a year. Should we turn the other way because he's black? Absolutely not.

There are no free passes. Maryland coach Gary Williams knows. The Terps lost five of six last season and they got booed out of Cole Field House. Like Richardson, Williams took offense, but he didn't go as far across the line as Richardson.

"The greatest thing going for the University of Arkansas is Nolan Richardson," Richardson said Monday.

Wow.

Richardson has to put his ego to rest at night in an oil tanker.

It's just more ammunition for the media, which was informed Monday that practices would be closed. Actually, that's no big deal because most college coaches close practices. Williams does, so does Duke's Mike Krzyzewski.

Richardson should be more concerned that the Razorbacks have lost 11 or more games in four of the past five years. They haven't made it past the second round of the NCAA tournament since 1996.

At age 60, he is at the age when coaches start to slow down. It happened to Louisville's Denny Crum.

"I've earned the right to have the season I've had," said Richardson.

He is absolutely right. He also deserves to be heard, though he shouldn't be so brazen.

But the man isn't going to change, and neither is his message.

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