Former UA coach Richardson can now laugh at the past


Photo by Lauren Clark Former University of Arkansas basketball coach Nolan Richardson enjoyed the Toast and Roast in his honor last week at the Embassy Suites in Little Rock.

Pat Bradley showed nerves of steel taking big shots for Arkansas during his career. However, the line he delivered last week during the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas Toast and Roast of former UA coach  Nolan Richardson may have taken more gumption than all of those clutch shots put together.
As Bradley took to the podium he motioned toward the event’s emcee Craig O’Neill, a THV 11 news anchor,  and Richardson and said, “You guys both have something in common. You were both fired by Frank Broyles.”
At first, the crowd gasped, then laughed loudly as Richardson and O’Neill both smiled and laughed and got up from their chairs and hugged.
“[Pat] saw that as a really funny moment,” Richardson says. “It was a really funny moment when you stop and think about it. A lot of guys don’t have the guts to say things. I’m glad the guys can say some of the things they may not have been able to say before.”
O’Neill was relieved of his duties as the Arkansas football public address announcer a few years before Richardson was fired after an angry press conference that followed a post-game presser at Kentucky where he said, “If they go ahead and give me money, they can take my job tomorrow.”
Richardson eventually sued the university, its leaders and the Razorback Foundation. The entire ordeal left some Hog fans upset with the coach. However, 12 years after that angry presser, the wounds have healed with Richardson and the fans that loved him so much as he guided the Hogs to the 1994 national title and back again to the 1995 title game.
“My Granny always said, “‘People that hold things against you today won’t hold them against you tomorrow,’” Richardson says. “She believed when you let go, other people will let go. It was hard for me to begin with to eventually let go. I don’t blame the people. They had their loves and likes and dislikes. That’s who people are. I didn’t go around begging for their sympathy. At the same time, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t do something from keeping them from un-balling their fists like I call it. That’s important.”
As time wore on and Richardson successors Stan Heath and John Pelphrey fell flat fans appreciated Richardson more.  When Jeff Long took the helm of the UA athletic department, Richardson was welcomed back to the arena he helped build. He and his teams were recognized and his former player and assistant coach, Mike Anderson, became the head coach. All of those things helped the healing process.
The fans embraced Richardson like they should, and that was evident last week by the packed house at the Embassy Suites ballroom.
Bradley, another former player Todd Day and Anderson took turns barbing and lauding the former coach. There were lots of laughs, smiles and hugs.
“You might have done something, but it grows,” Richardson says. “Fish stories. The guy that goes fishing and caught a two-pounder, but over the years it becomes a whale. That’s how it is in athletics. They grow and grow and grow. You have heard [the stories], but then it gets bigger. Sometimes I find out a lot about myself that I didn’t know. To me, that is the great part about teaching and coaching.”
August has been a special month for Richardson. He was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Aug. 8. then came the Toast and Roast.
“It doesn’t get any better. You go to the Hall of Fame two weeks ago, then you come to this,” Richardson says. “It seems like it has just gotten bigger. The reason it has gotten so big is because I have my family of players telling things about me and me being able to say some things about them. It just doesn’t get any better than that.”