"If they go ahead and pay me my money, they can take the job tomorrow."
Fifteen words. That's all it took.
Those 15 damning words condemned Nolan Richardson to basketball hell and turned him into a coaching pariah.
Richardson's words, which followed a 2002 game in which his Arkansas team lost to Kentucky, reverberated throughout the state of Arkansas and the college basketball world.
Less than a week later, Richardson's contract was bought out by Arkansas. Then, it got ugly.
Richardson sued the University of Arkansas -- the same school he led to three Final Fours and the 1994 national championship -- for violating his free speech rights in 2002. The case was dismissed by a judge two years later.
Since then, the hall-of-fame coach has been stuck in basketball limbo. It might seem harsh for one of basketball's trailblazers to be ostracized from the game he loves so much, but it's been the reality for Richardson.
Nolan Starts Rollin'
After winning the 1980 National Junior College Athletic Association championship, Nolan Richardson was introduced as the 22nd head basketball coach at the University of Tulsa.
In his first season at the helm of the Golden Hurricane, Richardson led his team to the National Invitational Tournament championship, his second national championship in as many seasons.
The next season, Richardson returned Tulsa to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 27 years.
Richardson led the Golden Hurricane to two more NCAA tournament appearances before departing Tulsa for the University of Arkansas.
It was at Arkansas where "40 Minutes of Hell" came to the forefront of basketball, making Richardson a household name in the process.
In his 17 seasons at Arkansas, Richardson led the Razorbacks to three Final Fours and the 1994 NCAA championship. With that win, Richardson became the only coach to win a junior college national championship, the NIT and the NCAA title.
Now, Richardson has a chance to add a WNBA title to that already impressive resume.
On the Bench
When Richardson's tenure at Arkansas came to an abrupt and maddening end, the coach disappeared from the basketball landscape. He remained in Fayetteville, tending to his horses at his ranch, but he remained off the grid -- at least on American soil.
In 2005, Richardson took over the Panamanian national team and then became coach of the Mexican national team in 2007.
While those were low-profile jobs with low expectations, Richardson succeeded in making the teams competitive.
He earned praise for his work with the Mexican team during the 2009 FIBA Americas Championship and left people wondering when -- if ever -- he would get another chance to coach.
Last year, the road was paved for Richardson's return to the bench when he was approached about the possibility of coaching a potential WNBA team in Tulsa. Although he was happy he landed back on the basketball map, Richardson said he wasn't necessarily looking for a return to the sidelines.
"It's not so much landing anywhere because I really didn't want to work anymore," he said. "I enjoyed going to Mexico because I knew I'd be there for two or three months and that was the end of it. When I went to Panama, I knew I'd be there for just a couple of months. I was offered to be head of departments over there, but I said I didn't want a job. So when the WNBA came around, I didn't apply for the job. I wasn't really looking to work anymore."
After his tenure with the Mexican national team ended, Richardson had been content spending his time working as a consultant and a motivational speaker. But the challenge of changing the game on a whole new level was intriguing, he said.
"They convinced me to come out of retirement, and I came out because I saw something totally different," Richardson said. "I don't have to worry about a resume anymore, but in my own mind, I wondered if I can change the face of the game at a different level.
"I already think I changed a lot of the face of the game with the way we played at Arkansas and Tulsa, because now I see more teams are running, more teams are trapping, more teams are pressing. It used to be no, no, no -- you can't do that. I want to see if I can do that on this stage."
The appeal of returning to Tulsa, where his major college career began, also caught Richardson's eye.
"My son lives over here, and my sister lives over here," Richardson said. "My grandkids live in Tulsa. Even though I live 90 miles up the road, I'm in Tulsa all the time. I fly out of Tulsa. Tulsa's always been a great city to me -- I've always loved it. It's just so nice now to be able to come back and be a part of it."
It's a blast from the past -- with two notable exceptions.
This is not only professional basketball, it's women's professional basketball.
A New Playbook
Coaching women's basketball is a new experience for Richardson, who has spent his entire 40-year coaching career on the men's side of the game.
But in reality, coaching the women isn't that much different than coaching the men, he said.
"Basketball is basketball, and I'm teaching them the same way I would have been teaching the men," Richardson said. "The only thing I see that the females can't do is dunk the basketball. They can do everything."
While Richardson is relishing in the opportunity to change the game on a different level and once again prove he is a trailblazer, his Shock players are equally excited to learn from a legend.
"I think the first thing that stands out in my mind is what an incredible human being coach is to be able to play for," Shock guard Marion Jones said. "Everybody knows his story. He's just been through a lot in his life, and (he) knows a lot about not only the game but about life."
Guard Shanna Crossley said her expectations of playing for Richardson have been "blown out of the water."
"Coach Richardson's been coaching longer than we've been alive, so I'm pretty confident he knows what he's doing," Crossley said. "If we all buy into the system -- which we are -- I think that we're going to make some noise in the league."
Long-time Richardson assistant Wayne Stehlik said the team is eager to learn from Richardson and help silence any critics of Richardson or the style of play.
"They've all seen the track record that Coach has -- the 40-plus years and all the rings he's got. He's a hall-of-famer," Stehlik said. "When they take that into account, and they see what he's done, I wouldn't bet against him."
Against the Odds
People have been betting against Richardson his entire life.
But time and time again, he has managed to prove the doubters and naysayers wrong.
He did it in college as a player at Texas Western. He did it as a coach at Western Texas Junior College, then Tulsa and then Arkansas.
The naysayers grew loudest when Richardson's tenure at Arkansas was terminated.
In recent years, however, those critics have been silenced as Richardson has once again been embraced.
Rus Bradburd's recent book about Richardson, aptly titled "Forty Minutes of Hell," has exposed Richardson's situation at Arkansas to many who likely did not know his whole story. To an extent, he has been vindicated.
"After a while, people, they aren't blind to it all," Richardson said. "As my old grandmother would say, 'In the land of blind people, the cross-eyed man is king.' Just because he can see a little bit, he's better than those who can't see at all. So maybe some of those people who were blind at least became cross-eyed."
Richardson said he hopes his story -- his journey to the peaks of basketball heaven and the depths of basketball hell -- can influence the lives of others.
"If a youngster picks up that book, he knows that if I can do what I did and go through what I went through, it's out there to be done," he said. "Maybe the times have changed and it's a little bit better, so it will be open more."
Richardson changed the game on the court and challenged the way the game was played off it.
He's blessed to have had the opportunity to shape the game in so many ways, he said.
"I was blessed to win national championships -- that's a blessing for me," Richardson said. "I was blessed to get a job at the University of Tulsa and win a national championship when they hadn't even gone to an NCAA (Tournament) once since 1955. That's a blessing.
I've been blessed to be in nine hall of fames. I was blessed to have a school named after me in El Paso. I was blessed to have highways and recreation centers. My blessings have been so numerous, and I look at this, and this is a blessing for me."
Whether it's a blessing or a curse, Richardson is ready to unleash his own version of hell on opponents once again.
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