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Former chancellor says Richardson didn't seem fully committed to quality education for athletes

The former chancellor at the University of Arkansas said Thursday that fired coach Nolan Richardson seemed committed to his basketball team but didn't appear to fully support university efforts to give athletes a quality education.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The former chancellor at the University of Arkansas said Thursday that fired coach Nolan Richardson seemed committed to his basketball team but didn't appear to fully support university efforts to give athletes a quality education.

Dan Ferritor, testifying in the federal trial of Richardson's discrimination lawsuit against the school, said the ex-coach didn't provide the leadership necessary to ensure that basketball players took advantage of their scholarships.

"I found him to be committed to the basketball program, but I was never sure of his support for the university," Ferritor said.

Arkansas fired Richardson on March 1, 2002, saying it feared Richardson had lost faith in the program by saying publicly that he would leave Arkansas if it bought out his contract. Richardson sued the school and its athletic department fund-raising arm.

A federal judge Wednesday dropped the fund-raising Razorback Foundation from the lawsuit, saying Richardson failed to show that the foundation was a co-employer with the university.

Ferritor, who was no longer chancellor when Richardson was fired, said coaches can wield great influence on an athlete's life by encouraging them to take advantage of opportunities, such as a free education. He said Richardson believed it was proper to attract athletes to Arkansas, but that it was up to the athletes to take the next step, not the coach.

The ex-chancellor, who took over the Fayetteville campus a year after Richardson's arrival in 1985, said Richardson had complained in 1994 _ after Arkansas won the national basketball championship _ that he was prohibited under school policy from making endorsement deals that could raise his income.

Richardson lawyer John Walker implied there was something race-based about the policy, but Ferritor said former football coach Ken Hatfield had made the same complaint in the 1980s.

Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton, who formerly coached Arkansas, testified Thursday that the Cowboys' decision to hire his son Sean when he retires, a decision announced Wednesday, came after a year of Oklahoma State's consultation with other schools and coaches. Walker suggested there was a network that prevented black coaches from advancing.

Wednesday, U.S. District Judge William R. Wilson ruled that Richardson was not an employee of the Razorback Foundation, a private group that raises money for Arkansas athletics. He dropped the foundation as a defendant, but refused to drop the case against the university.

Earlier in the nonjury trial, Richardson admitted on the stand that his agreement with his foundation named him an independent contractor who provided services, such as hosting a television show. His lawsuit had claimed he was an employee of the university and foundation.

"We're thrilled about the judge's decision," said foundation president Chuck Dicus. "On behalf of all the donors to the Razorback Foundation, we've stated since the beginning we shouldn't be a party to this."

In addition to dismissing the foundation as a defendant, Wilson threw out most of the foundation's counterclaims. Wilson said the foundation will be allowed to pursue claims that Richardson has not sought employment as his contract requires.

The Razorback Foundation is paying off Richardson's $7.21 million contract at $500,000 a year through June 2008, but under his contract Richardson is to pursue work _ and his Arkansas buyout would be reduced by whatever amount a new school or professional team would pay him.

Walker and foundation lawyers agreed that the judge's rulings freed Richardson to cash 16 checks worth $41,667.67 each that he had not deposited out of fear the money could be recovered during the litigation.

Richardson's lawyers rested their case earlier Wednesday and defense witnesses began taking the stand.

Track and field coach John McDonnell described his own relationships with some athletic department officials whom Richardson, in his own testimony, had described as picking on him.

McDonnell described former associate athletic director Katie Hill as a crude person who constantly complained that he and Richardson asked for things like equipment or updating the halls of fame for their respective sports. McDonnell said Hill often referred to him and Richardson as "S.O.B's."

McDonnell said he has a businesslike relationship with athletic director Frank Broyles. Both he and Richardson once held assistant athletic director titles that Richardson complained on the stand brought no authority.

At one point, McDonnell said, he complained to Broyles about lack of access to facilities and said that, if he could not help make decisions about use of the university's indoor track facility, he shouldn't be an assistant athletic director.

He said Broyles responded by revoking the honorary title.