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Judge won't dismiss Richardson case against Arkansas

A federal judge Wednesday refused to throw out Nolan Richardson's discrimination lawsuit against the University of Arkansas.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A federal judge Wednesday refused to throw out Nolan Richardson's discrimination lawsuit against the University of Arkansas.

In a ruling at the close of Richardson's portion of the case, university lawyer Phil Kaplan said Richardson failed to provide enough evidence to support his allegation that he was fired because he is black and outspoken.

U.S. District Judge William R. Wilson Jr., who is hearing the case without a jury, said he was not ruling on the merits of the case but attempting to conduct the matter as though a jury was present.

"I know I would submit to a jury. There are conflicting inferences," Wilson ruled.

Wilson also said that the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has admonished judges to hear all of a case once it gets to trial, unless it is so clear that the case couldn't stand up on appeal.

Earlier Wednesday, Richardson lawyer John Walker asked Wilson to review portions of depositions from Arkansas Chancellor John A. White, athletic director Frank Broyles and university trustee Jim Lindsey for inclusion as evidence. Also up for review are on-the-record questioning with Nebraska athletic director Steve Pederson and others. Pederson's deposition is under consideration because Nebraska considered hiring Arkansas football coach Houston Nutt, whom Richardson says was treated better.

Richardson completed his testimony Tuesday and said that, despite having more than 500 coaching victories, an NCAA national championship ring and three trips to Final Four, he cannot even land an interview.

"I may be one of the top-rated coaches that's unemployed," Richardson said Tuesday. "No one is knocking down my door saying, 'Hey, coach, we need you.'"

Under questioning by Walker, Richardson said Tuesday he has been unable to find a comparable coaching job since he was fired. He said he has hired an agent and applied for openings at Miami and Auburn, but was not even interviewed for those jobs.

Richardson said his agent has told him the lawsuit and his outspoken nature are hindering his job search.

When filling openings in high-profile programs, Richardson said, athletic directors usually initiate contact with coaches they are interested in _ but he's heard from none.

"As my agent says, I'm pretty tainted right now," Richardson said. "Because of my lawsuit and my outspoken nature, it's tough for me to get a job."

Richardson sued the university and its athletic fund-raising arm, the Razorback Foundation, claiming racial discrimination and violation of his freedom of speech. He said he was told he was fired after a news conference at which he made racially charged remarks. Arkansas says it fired the coach believing he had lost faith in his ability to lead the program.

At the Feb. 25, 2002, news conference, Richardson spoke of the slave trade and how he expected to be treated better.

"I did not come over on that ship, so I expect to be treated a little bit different," Richardson said then. "Because I know for a fact that I do not play on the same level as the other coaches around this school play on. I know that. You know it. And people of my color know that. And that angers me."

Richardson was the only black coach among 17 head coaches at the school.

Under questioning by Kaplan, Richardson acknowledged that at the time of his Dec. 18, 2003, deposition, he could not think of any examples of university discrimination against him while he was covered by his final contract.

But in court this week, Richardson has said racial discrimination included Broyles' not extending his contract and not offering him a raise as some other coaches received.

Richardson said Tuesday he received what amounted to cost-of-living adjustments and other raises given routinely to other state employees, and said he was never singled out for a significant jump in pay. However, he acknowledged a salary increase from $145,000-$175,000 to more than $1 million between 1985 and 2000.

He explained the increase in his pay was actually a product of his own negotiations with shoe and apparel dealers until 1999.

"I raised most of my money, all the time, until my last year, when the university took over" and negotiated an all-school, all-sport deal with Reebok, Richardson said.

The Reebok deal paid Richardson $500,000, which was $100,000 more than his previous deal with Converse, which ran out a year earlier. Richardson said he had to ask university system President B. Alan Sugg to intervene because he believed Broyles was trying to short-change him.

The coach also said Broyles and associate athletic director Katie Hill had made racial slurs directed at him, but added that he had not made the specific allegations before. The judge struck the remarks from the record after Walker admitted Richardson's testimony regarding the slurs was based on hearsay and rumor.