Bahn: Films And Pep Rallies Are Nice, But Time For Lasting Tribute To Nolan Richardson

by Chris Bahn  on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012 9:00 am  

Nolan Richardson won 389 games in 17 seasons at Arkansas with three Final Fours and a 1994 national title. But his impact goes beyond winning games. (Photo by Eric Howerton)

Nearly 30 minutes following the premiere of ESPN’s “40 Minutes of Hell” documentary, the film’s star continued to sign autographs and pose for pictures in Bud Walton Arena. Fans wanted to pay their respects to Nolan Richardson and interacting with the Hall of Fame coach was one of the many ways they’d found to show their appreciation.

Earlier in the day the 6,000 or so who stayed for the film premiere showered Richardson with applause as he strolled onto the court, a red carpet underneath his feet.

No doubt Richardson’s work in coaching is worth celebrating.

But recognition of Richardson shouldn’t stop with mentioning the 389 games won in 17 seasons at Arkansas. His mark at Arkansas and on college basketball goes beyond 13 NCAA tournament appearances, three Final Fours, a 1995 runner-up finish and the 1994 national championship.

Richardson, as we’re all beginning to understand, was truly a pioneer. It didn’t start when Frank Broyles hired him in 1985, making Richardson the first black coach of a major sport at a major university in the south.

Trailblazing was the norm for Richardson, who grew up in pre-integration El Paso, Texas. Though he had a late start on his career — he was 35 when hired at a junior college in a tiny, mostly white Texas town — Richardson put together one of the best careers in college basketball. He won a national title in junior college and continued his success at Tulsa where he won the NIT and then to Arkansas where he eventually won a national title.

No other coach has a junior college championship, an NIT title and NCAA championship on his resume. Each stop came with the added pressure of being the “first black coach at [insert school].”

That is a burden few folks can fully understand. And that is why Richardson deserves a tribute that goes beyond anything that we have seen so far.

Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson gets it. He was a player with Richardson at Tulsa and then served as an assistant at Arkansas when his mentor was hearing racial slurs and venom from fans not quite ready for a black coach.

“He’s touched so many lives in a lot of ways,” Anderson said. “He’s been a first wherever he’s been. He’s a great man, a great treasure.”

There were few black coaches nationally when the Richardson era began at Arkansas. He was the first black basketball coach in both the Southwest and Southeastern conferences.

Contrast that with today’s SEC.



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