Ruling favors Richardson on key issue

LITTLE ROCK -- A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed an
attempt by the University of Arkansas' athletic department
fund-raising arm to reclaim money it has paid to Nolan Richardson,
ruling that the fired coach has made adequate attempts to find work
under terms of his contract.

The Razorback Foundation, which is buying out Richardson's
contract at $500,000 a year through June 2008, had filed in a
counterclaim to the ex-coach's discrimination lawsuit.

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 Razorback Foundation said Richardson
hadn't made serious attempts to find work.

But U.S. District Judge William R. Wilson Jr. said 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..

Arkansas fired Richardson on March 1, 2002, saying he had
expressed a lack of faith in the Razorback basketball program by
saying publicly he would leave the school if it bought out his
contract. Richardson sued, alleging racial discrimination and a
violation of his free speech rights.

Under Richardson's contract, the Razorback Foundation is buying
out Richardson's $7.21 million contract at just under half its

The judge noted Tuesday that Richardson had hired agents to help
him find work and that the coach 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

Richardson's wife Rose leaned over and kissed the ex-coach on
the cheek as Wilson ruled.

Tuesday's decision dropped the foundation entirely from the
discrimination trial. Last week, Wilson dismissed the foundation as
a defendant, ruling that Richardson had not proven that it was his
co-employer along with the University of Arkansas.

The lawsuit now involves only Richardson and the university.
Wilson is expected to hear final testimony Wednesday -- perhaps from
Richardson, Arkansas system President B. Alan Sugg and Fayetteville
campus Chancellor John A. White.

Closing arguments were scheduled for June 11 after Richardson's
attorney, John Walker, said he needed time to prepare because the
case includes some unique issues in regard to anti-discrimination

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

This year, he said, he contacted Auburn and Miami (Fla.) about
their openings.

Richardson also said he attended a coaches summer camp in 2002
that featured 10 college and 10 professional team coaches.
Responding to a question by Wilson, Richardson said he believed his
age was a factor in teams not showing much interest in him.

Richardson told foundation lawyer Mike Jones that no black coach
had ever been fired from a college position and rehired later at
another college, and the coach said later he didn't believe that he
had bypassed his obligation to look for employment.

"I never expected that we, that I, hadn't done the right
thing," Richardson said outside court.

Jones listed a number of fired white coaches who had been
rehired -- which Richardson said proved his point.

"I pointed out that most black coaches haven't resurfaced,"
Richardson said. "It was surprising (when Jones listed white
rehired coaches), but at the same time, I don't know if they
understand reality."

Also Tuesday, two more Arkansas board of trustees members said
Sugg called them Feb. 24, 2002, to say Richardson would be fired.
Richardson has claimed he was fired after a news conference Feb.
25, 2002, in which he used racially charged language. The
university claims White and athletic director Frank Broyles agreed
Richardson should be fired for the remarks he made publicly about
his contract on Feb. 23, 2002.

Trustees Tommy May and Bill Clark also said Tuesday that Sugg
called him on Feb. 24, 2002.

Six of the 10 trustees have said they heard on Feb. 24, 2002,
that Richardson would be fired. Two others have said they heard
from Sugg later.