White: Richardson minded Broyles' 'meddling'

Updated: June 2, 2004, 9:24 PM ET
Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK -- The chancellor who fired Nolan Richardson testified at the trial on the ex-coach's discrimination lawsuit Wednesday that he quickly discovered "sizable egos" in the athletic department after arriving at Arkansas seven years ago.

John A. White, chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, said Richardson believed athletic director Frank Broyles tried to meddle in the basketball program by suggesting that assistant coaches visit other college campuses in efforts to pick up tips.

Broyles, in making the recommendation to Richardson in 1987, had said he made similar trips as a football coach and believed the basketball team might benefit. Richardson still resented the advice more than a decade later, White said.

"It was quite clear to me that I had on my hands a couple of sizable egos," White said, referring to Richardson and Broyles.

Disputes between the men continued through negotiations on Richardson's final contract in 2000, White testified. After the deal was signed, Broyles recommended that he and White visit the Arkansas locker room after games to show their support for Richardson and his team. Richardson has said he believed the visits to be meddlesome.

Arkansas fired Richardson on March 1, 2002, after he said publicly that he would leave the school if it bought out his $7.21 million contract. The school said the statement was a sign that Richardson had lost faith in the program. Richardson sued, claiming racial discrimination and a violation of free-speech rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

B. Alan Sugg, the president of the University of Arkansas system, also testified Wednesday that he didn't believe that Richardson's buyout remark -- made publicly after a loss at Kentucky -- was "a cry for help" as Richardson had claimed.

Sugg said Richardson gave no sign of needing help when the men talked three weeks before the Kentucky game. Richardson explained then that his struggling team wasn't shooting well and that things would turn around, Sugg said.

But on Feb. 23, 2002, Richardson told reporters he would leave Arkansas if it paid him his money. Sugg said he later asked Richardson why he had made the remark, and the coach said it was a plea.

"Here's the head basketball coach for the University of Arkansas, one of the highest paid people in the state of Arkansas, telling me that his way of crying out for help was to go on the television station in Kentucky," Sugg said. "I thought that was a weak explanation."

After Arkansas fired Richardson and Sugg upheld the firing March 21, 2002, the coach sued the school and its athletic department fund-raising arm, the Razorback Foundation.

Sugg testified Wednesday that he wanted to meet Richardson face-to-face as he weighed the coach's in-house appeal. Sugg said he and Richardson talked by telephone and that Richardson said it wouldn't be productive to meet in person.

According to Sugg, Richardson told him that if Sugg had anything to say, he should tell it to Richardson's lawyers. Sugg testified that if the men had met in person, they might have reached a different conclusion to the case. Sugg said he upheld Richardson's firing after reviewing documents and other evidence.

The Razorback Foundation, which was dropped as a defendant last week, is paying Richardson $500,000 a year through June 2008 under terms of a buyout clause in the coach's contract.

Under the pact, income from another coaching job would reduce the foundation's obligation, but Richardson has said he has been unable to find work.

Tuesday, U.S. District Judge William R. Wilson dismissed the foundation's counterclaim that Richardson hasn't done enough to get a job and thereby reduce its obligation to the ex-coach.

University lawyers said Wednesday that Richardson had wanted to eliminate the mitigation clause of his contract, which would free him to take a new job and keep the $500,000 a year from the Razorback Foundation. Richardson lawyer John Walker objected, saying the discussion came up privately among lawyers in the case and shouldn't be entered into evidence. Wilson agreed.

White and Sugg also testified about Richardson not wanting to be held accountable for his players' graduation rates. Richardson's contract included guaranteed money; other Arkansas coaches have contracts that provide for extra pay if players meet certain academic goals.

Testimony was expected to conclude Wednesday. Closing arguments are set for June 11. Wilson is hearing the case without a jury.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press