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Arkansas broadcaster says Richardson spoke at midseason about leaving

The play-by-play announcer on Arkansas radio broadcasts testified in federal court Friday that Nolan Richardson tried to plot his departure during the 2001-2002 season in an attempt to put an assistant coach to succeed him.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The play-by-play announcer on Arkansas radio broadcasts testified in federal court Friday that Nolan Richardson tried to plot his departure during the 2001-2002 season in an attempt to put an assistant coach to succeed him.

At the federal trial on Richardson's discrimination lawsuit against Arkansas, broadcaster Mike Nail said Richardson had said during his final season at Fayetteville that he wanted assistant coach Mike Anderson to replace him as coach of the Razorbacks.

"We talked about stepping down in the middle of the season so Mike could be the interim coach" and increase his chances of being named Richardson's permanent replacement, Nail said. "We talked two times about that after the national signing day (in November)."

Nail also said Richardson commented a couple of times that he didn't know how much longer he could coach at Arkansas.

Arkansas fired Richardson March 1, 2002, saying it feared the coach lost faith in his program by saying publicly that the school could buy out his contract. Richardson sued, claiming the school discriminated his civil and free speech rights.

Arkansas later hired Stan Heath to replace Richardson; Anderson went to Alabama-Birmingham and this year took his team into the final 16 of the NCAA tournament with an upset of top-seeded Kentucky.

Nail also testified Friday that he wasn't surprised to hear Richardson make the buyout remark publicly after a loss at Kentucky because the coach had said the same thing privately the previous day.

The announcer said he was stunned, however, when Richardson later spoke about slavery at a news conference and said he has suffered unequal treatment at Arkansas because he is black. Richardson later apologized in a postgame radio interview with Nail, saying his criticisms were intended for a small percentage of fans and a couple of reporters.

Richardson attorney Rickey Hicks attempted to show that Nail and Richardson did not have the friendship that Nail had claimed. Nail said he last spoke to Richardson the day before the coach was fired, at a golf tournament, and was rebuffed when he tried to converse with him.

"Ain't no more friendships. My attorney told me not to talk to you guys no more," Nail said, recounting Richardson's words. Hicks said Nail was likely attempting to interview Richardson.

"No. I walked up to him with a golf club in my hand," said Nail, who stared intently at Richardson during a portion of his testimony.

Thursday, Nail testified that Richardson's relations with Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles worsened as Richardson's ego grew after back-to-back trips to the national championship game _ including the 1994 title.

"I observed that coach Richardson, in my opinion, became more irritable, more, for the lack of a better word, unappreciative of the fans and unappreciative of any criticism at all," said Nail, the Arkansas radio announcer for 23 years. "He had just reached the top of his profession with a national championship so, yes, I did see a change in his ego."

Nail also testified that Richardson spoke negatively about Broyles, calling him a "white-haired devil" and using terms that included expletives.

"I think coach Richardson developed a true hatred for coach Broyles," Nail said. "His hatred of coach Broyles didn't seem rational at times."

Nail also testified that Richardson never claimed discrimination.

University lawyer Phil Kaplan said outside court that Nail had revealed a key reason behind Richardson's lawsuit.

"This case is really about his irrational hatred of coach Broyles," Kaplan said. "There was just an irrationality to his feelings _ and also that the world changed for him after he won the national championship."

Also Thursday, former Arkansas basketball coach Eddie Sutton, now the coach at Oklahoma State, had a heated exchange with Richardson lawyer John Walker over how hiring practices affect black coaches. Oklahoma State announced Wednesday that Sutton's son Sean would one day replace his father with the Cowboys.

Sutton, who coached at Arkansas for 11 years, became upset when Walker suggested that Oklahoma State _ by announcing Sean Sutton's future appointment _ wasn't giving black coaches a chance to apply for his job.

Sutton later told the court: "I've had six assistant coaches that have gone on to be a head coach, and three of them are African-American. I have great compassion for African-American coaches."

He also testified that Oklahoma State spent a year consulting with other schools and coaches before deciding his son could succeed him.

Senior associate athletic director Derrick Gragg testified Thursday that when he interviewed for his job at Arkansas in 2000, Richardson asked him if he knew what he was getting into. Gragg took the job, and testified that he would have liked to have known Richardson better.

"I do consider him to be a pioneer and he really is a living legend who opened doors for people like me," said Gragg, the only black person holding a top athletic administrative position at Arkansas.