Arkansas Basketball: The Time Has Come

On Yesterday’s show, TJ Carpenter asked former Razorback head coach Nolan Richardson whether or not he believed that there were those in powers of position over the basketball program who would fight the hiring of Mike Anderson to replace John Pelphrey on the grounds that Nolan might once again wield influence on the Hill. The scary thing is not that such a question has to be asked – the scary thing is that Nolan was most likely correct when he responded that there “probably” are.

Folks, we need to let bygones be bygones. Not everyone is ready to say it, but I am – we were wrong, and Nolan was right.

Nolan felt that he was held to a different standard than white coaches at the school. Coach Richardson was heavily criticized following a couple of years of mediocrity, and many Razorback fans continue to criticize him for it to this day, with some even calling him “No-win Richardson”. By contrast, Houston Nutt held on to his job for 10 full years of mediocrity, and the Razorback program had to be ripped nearly in two to finally send him off into the setting sun. Nolan’s tenure ended in a lawsuit, Nutt’s ended in being paid $3.5 million to go to a division rival. Nolan’s final days came after taking the basketball program to heights unseen in Arkansas before or since. Nutt’s highest achievement in a decade on the Hill was something the program had just achieved 3 years before he was hired. Nolan WAS held to a different standard.

Nolan felt that there was a climate of racial enmity in his time at Arkansas. It was discovered through the lawsuit that Athletic Director Frank Broyles, Nolan’s supervisor and the head man of Arkansas athletics, used the “n”-word while speaking at a banquet. I’m not a black man and couldn’t pretend to personally understand what that word means to a man of Nolan’s race, experience and age, but it’s implicitly hostile enough even to me that I would immediately take offense to anyone who felt comfortable enough to use it in a derogatory manner in my presence, especially in a professional setting. Nolan WAS subject to racial hostility at Arkansas.

I could keep going, but the point is simple – Nolan didn’t handle those last days perfectly, but he was right. And, when you’re right about the things Nolan was right about, and they come on the heels of what that man did for our school, it’s very easy to understand why he was ready to scorch some good-ol’-boy earth.

Let’s not mince words here – Nolan Richardson is the greatest major-sport coach in Arkansas history. It isn’t close.

He took the school to 3 Final Fours. 2 National Championship games. The ONLY undisputed major-sport National Championship the school has EVER won. 7 regular season conference championships, and 4 conference tournament championships.

In 17 years, Nolan won 26 NCAA Tournament games. Arkansas has won exactly 1 in the 9 years since parting ways with Richardson. Nolan won at least 20 games 12 times at Arkansas, and won 30 games in 4 different seasons. In the last 9 years, the Hogs have won 20 games 3 times, with a high-water mark of 23 wins. Richardson was .500 or better in conference 14 times in 17 years. The Hogs have finished .500 or better in the SEC twice since.

“Probably” wasn’t all Nolan Richardson had to say in response to TJ’s question. “All I remember is that when I got to Arkansas, there were 9,500 seats. And when I left, there were 19,600. Now, I can remember that. Now, you can put money to money – I know how much money I made Arkansas. I know exactly that,” Nolan replied. “When you stop to think about how many seats were there when I got to the University, and how many seats were there when I left the University – then you can figure out what kind of job I did.”

Once again, Nolan is right. Bud Walton’s name adorns our basketball arena, but Nolan Richardson built that court. Nolan Richardson hung most of those banners over that court, including the one banner that nobody else can ever hang – the one that says “1994 NCAA National Champions”.

I’m a Mike Anderson proponent for our current opening, but this is because I believe he is currently the best fit available. We should not hire Mike Anderson to close old wounds, or to get back the glory days. He should be hired if it is decided he provides the best and clearest opportunity to return the program to its rightful place of national prominence.

But the wounds of the final days of Coach Nolan Richardson’s tenure must be closed. It is absurd that one solitary halftime presentation remains the depth of the University’s efforts to remember that 1994 team. It is asinine that Nolan isn’t THE centerpiece of every intro video for every game played in the arena that he built. And it is an insult to our own tradition and history that the court he so masterfully paced for so many years does not bear his name.

The time is now. It is time to forget the arguments of the past, and to honor instead the achievements of the past. We have the ribbon boards, we have the Sodexho concessions, we have 35 mascots running all over the arena, we have seats nearly on the court to make the wealthy feel more loved, and we have the Helmet Hog on the floor in place of the beloved SlobberHog. We have all the additions that signify nothing but noise and fury, but the most appropriate addition of which I can conceive remains absent. It is time for Nolan Richardson to be honored officially, in his own ceremony, as the University unveils one more addition to the court – his signature, telling the world “this is Nolan Richardson’s floor.”

He built it. He earned it. The time has come.

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