The federal trial on former coach Nolan Richardson's discrimination lawsuit against the University of Arkansas entered what was expected to be the final day of testimony Wednesday with the president of the university system recalling Richardson's wish not to be held accountable for graduation rates.
President B. Alan Sugg said that, when Richardson negotiated his final contract with the school in 2000, the coach said he didn't believe his pay should be tied to the number of athletes who graduate. The testimony was similar to that of previous witnesses in the monthlong trial.
Arkansas fired Richardson on March 1, 2002, saying he had expressed a lack of faith in the Razorback basketball program by commenting publicly that he would leave the school if it bought out his contract. Richardson sued Arkansas and its athletic department fund-raising arm, the Razorback Foundation, alleging racial discrimination and a violation of his free speech rights.
U.S. District Judge William R. Wilson Jr. dismissed the foundation as a defendant last week, and on Tuesday dismissed the foundation's attempt to reclaim money it has paid to Richardson under the terms of the buyout. The foundation said Richardson hasn't adequately sought work. Money the ex-coach would receive in a new job would offset the foundation's obligations.
Testimony was expected to conclude Wednesday. Wilson, who is hearing the case without a jury, scheduled closing arguments for June 11 after Richardson's attorney, John Walker, said he needed time to prepare because the case includes some unique issues regarding anti-discrimination law.
Tuesday, Wilson ruled the fired coach has made adequate attempts to find work, which calls for the Razorback Foundation to buy out Richardson's $7.21 million contract at $500,000 a year through June 2008.
Under terms of Richardson's buyout, he had to seek a new job and any money he would receive coaching basketball at another school or with a professional team would reduce the foundation's obligation to him by the same amount. The foundation said Richardson hadn't made serious attempts to find work.
But Wilson said that the ex-coach had looked for work and that Richardson's age, 62, and his lawsuit might be factors in his inability to find a job.
The judge noted that Richardson had hired agents to help him find work and that he had either had discussions or made inquiries to Auburn, Miami, Oregon State and Texas-El Paso.
"I think he used reasonable efforts to contact other universities and he has enlisted agents to look for a job for him," Wilson ruled. "It may be that the filing of this lawsuit hindered him from getting another job. I did not consider that in making my ruling.
"I think, on the balance, taking all the evidence on the mitigation issue, I think he has made reasonable efforts," Wilson said.
Richardson's wife Rose leaned over and kissed the ex-coach on the cheek as Wilson ruled.
Richardson had returned to the stand Tuesday and said "disgrace and embarrassment" after his firing initially made it difficult to leave his Fayetteville home and look for work.
The ex-coach said he attended the 2002 Final Four in an attempt to network with other coaches _ about a week after Sugg upheld the coach's firing in late March 2002.
"The only reason I came out of the house in that period of disgrace and embarrassment to me was because coaches around the country had started calling and asking me to be present," Richardson testified. "At that point, my head and my wife, we weren't ready for anything at that point."
Richardson said he spoke to Oregon State twice in spring 2002, but after the second meeting told the Beavers he wasn't ready to look for a job yet.
The ex-coach also testified that Texas-El Paso made an informal inquiry in October 2002 because Richardson is an El Paso native. UTEP said it actually wanted to hire an assistant coach from another program as its head coach _ and couldn't afford a coach with Richardson's 25 years of major college experience, Richardson said.
This year, he said, he contacted Auburn and Miami (Fla.) about their openings.