Coach's Corner

Poor Nolan Richardson. Why's everybody always pickin' on he?

Some people like our winter climate, but I suggest that most of these people are young and haven't lived here very long. I remember being 23 and new to Austin. I couldn't understand why, on a lovely warm January day, so many gaunt, pale old people were so damn sick: hacking, sneezing, snot dripping off their noses in all kinds of embarrassing ways. No doubt their car seats are littered with gross, globbed-up Kleenex. "Yo, old man," I'm thinking, "get out and toss a Frisbee. Fly a kite. This is Austin, dude, not Syracuse. And if you're going to die, at least get out of my face and go home." That's what I thought.

Now, I hate smug-punk-subversive-healthy types like I once was. The Chamber of Commerce statistics about Austin's winter weather are, at the very best, a half-truth. Okay, the average daily highs might be in the mid-60s, but it's hard to chase a tennis ball when you're having a coughing fit that would've nauseated Doc Holliday. It might indeed appear, to a guy from Quebec Province, that a 70-degree winter day would be great for golf. What the USA Today weather page doesn't tell is how hard it is to stand over a putt with the wind gusting to 73mph, causing every allergy known to man to go shooting off those cute, colorful charts. It won't show the 180-degree, midday wind shift (with no reduction in velocity) as the temperature plummets 35 degrees in six minutes. So anybody not already desperately ill from allergies will soon fall victim to the flu. Many of us, barely clinging to life, will have both.

And that's the confusing part. I sport an outstanding team of physicians. I have a state-of-the-art inner-ear/balance/allergy guy. Biannually he has a brand-new theory, often contradicting last year's theory, about why I'm so sick. I like him, though. He seems genuinely concerned and perplexed that I never get any better. Then I have a more conventional Norman Rockwell-type physician. He's been my doctor for almost 30 years. He wasn't a young man then. He's become a little more cantankerous as the years have passed, but he's always there for me. He doesn't know what's wrong with me either (lots of colds going round, you know), but at least he listens to my heart and takes my temperature. He inquires about phlegm color. My other doc discourses on the tiny hairs in my inner ear and how messed up they are. Through it all -- cough elixirs, antibiotics, and immune system enhancers -- I cough and sneeze. I did an Internet search for the most allergy-free environment in the U.S. and came up with nothing. If you know, pass it on.

I won't move to Arkansas ... pollen counts be damned. In a state where rampant human inbreeding is yesterday's news, I can't help but wonder what pushed Razorback coach Nolan Richardson over the edge?

I don't get Richardson, really. Never have. By most measures of college basketball (except for recent graduation rates -- 0% is fairly low, even by Arkansas standards) Richardson's been an extraordinarily successful coach. His 420-plus wins, three Final Four appearances and a National Championship should indicate a happy, secure coach. But happy and secure are not words that ever seem to apply to Richardson.

Richardson coaches with a big chip on his shoulder. As a motivational tool on the collegiate level this can be effective. But in Richardson's case it became clear, as each outburst became more hysterical and racially heated, it was no ploy. Richardson believed people -- white people -- were out to get him. He believed a white coach of his stature would have arenas named after him

The local media -- naturally -- has been his imagined tormentor all these disrespected years. Here in Austin we live in a big company town. The only people who think Austin's media are tough are very thin-skinned coaches. In truth, the only time the local media becomes critical of a major program coach is when the bath water's gone and the baby's long dead. Then it's safe. And although I've never been there, and don't want to go, thanks, I'd bet all my cough syrup the media climate in Fayetteville -- a small company town -- is considerably more benign than in Austin.

Still, Richardson raved on. He'd earned the right (true enough) to have a mediocre season. He wasn't going to talk to the racist white media any more. His bosses, seeing the school's most prestigious athletic program -- if we ignore that 0% graduation rate -- run by an increasingly self-destructive guy, gave Nolan what he wants, or needs, more acerbic oil for his paranoid head: They fired him.

Well, that's not true really. They bought out his contract: Richardson will be fully paid for the next three years. But I'll bet he won't view it like that. I'll bet there will be lawsuits; issues of race will be center stage. So a well-respected coach comes to an unfortunate, bitter end with a university he, for the most part, served well. He believed he was under attack from within. He believed he was the basketball program.

Strollin' Nolan, in due time, will resurrect his career at some down-in-the-dumps university. He'll win. He'll say I told you so. But once more, in due time, the demons which ran him to ground in Fayetteville will corner him yet again.

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