Richardson gets first job since being fired

Updated: July 28, 2005, 7:08 PM ET
Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK -- Former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson headed to Panama on Thursday to lead that country's national team, although the nature of his employment remained unsettled.

It's his first coaching job since he was fired by the University of Arkansas more than three years ago. Richardson says he'll only receive payment for his daily expenses.

Richardson, 63, who led the Razorbacks to the national title in 1994, left for Panama Thursday morning and begins work Aug. 7, according to his lawyer, John Walker.

Panama is holding team trials starting Aug. 1, and one of the players competing for a spot on the team is former Razorback Dionisio Gomez. Former LSU standout and Turkish league power forward Jaime Lloreda and Italian pro Michael Hicks are expected to lead the team.

But Hernan Hernandez, secretary general of the Panamanian Basketball Federation, said the federation already has selected at least 12 players, who are playing this week in a tournament in Venezuela. Hernandez said he did not have full details of Richardson's job description and the federations president was in Venezuela with the team, which is now coached by Daniel Maffei.

Richardson's work status is significant because the private Razorback Foundation is buying out Richardson's Arkansas contract for $500,000 a year. The Razorbacks fired Richardson March 1, 2002, after he offered to give up the job, which the school took as a sign he lost confidence in the program.

Under Richardson's agreement with Arkansas, he must look for work. If he receives any salary from Panama, it would reduce the amount the Razorback Foundation must pay him.

Walker said that if Richardson isn't receiving any salary for his work in Panama, it shouldn't affect his payments from the Razorback Foundation.

Richardson said he hasn't worked since he was fired by Arkansas on March 1, 2002, because of his high-profile disagreement with the school. University officials said public comments he made damaged the basketball program. Richardson sued the university, saying he was fired because he is black and because he exercised his free-speech rights.

A federal judge ruled last year that Richardson failed to prove discrimination. Richardson has appealed to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court in St. Louis.

Both Walker and Razorback Foundation lawyer Ken Mourton said the appeal should not affect the contract buyout because the foundation was dismissed from the case.

"We'll try to ascertain the true facts surrounding this arrangement and at that point make a decision on what we'll do," Mourton said Thursday.

Panama begins play at the Bolivarian Games, scheduled for Aug. 12-21 in Colombia. The FIBA Americas championship is Aug. 24.

Richardson was 389-169 in 17 years at Arkansas and took the Razorbacks to the NCAA Tournament 13 times. He led the Razorbacks to the Final Four in 1990, 1994 and 1995, winning the championship in 1994 and losing the title game in 1995. He is the only coach to win NCAA, NIT and junior college national titles.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press