(FAYETTEVILLE, Ark.) - Nolan Richardson's future remained cloudy Friday, with more meetings planned to discuss his complaint that he's treated differently than other Arkansas coaches because he is black.
The longtime basketball coach met for 90 minutes with Athletic Director Frank Broyles and Chancellor John A. White on Thursday _ then canceled his regularly scheduled news conference and skipped practice.
Television stations KATV in Little Rock and KFAA in Fayetteville said Richardson rejected an offer to buy out the six years left on his $1.03 million a year contract. School officials refused to address the report.
``The discussions from this morning are continuing,'' White's office said Thursday. ``The university expects to resolve the situation soon and we'll have no further statements until that time.''
Sports Information Director Kevin Trainor said he expected the meeting to resume Friday.
The Razorbacks worked out for about 70 minutes Thursday, without Richardson present. ``He was attending to some business of a personal nature,'' assistant coach Mike Anderson told reporters after the practice.
Earlier Thursday afternoon, Richardson canceled his regular Thursday news conference _ a meeting with reporters at which his agent said the coach would apologize for slamming reporters and Razorback fans.
``He wanted to fix this thing,'' Scanlon said. ``The message was way, way off what he wanted. He wanted to make clear that 99.9 percent of his fans treat him well.''
Richardson, who led the Razorbacks to the 1994 national title, said Monday that he did not have to answer to the media and to fans. Richardson, who was head coach at the University of Tulsa from 1980-85, also questioned why only white reporters were assigned to cover his team.
The coach raised the possibility of a buyout two days earlier in Lexington, Ky. In discussing pressure on him and Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, Richardson said: ``If they go ahead and pay me my money, they can take the job tomorrow.''
White said he chalked Richardson's comments up to frustration with a season record that fell to 13-14 with a loss to Mississippi State on Wednesday night. However, as the effects of the comments lingered, White said Wednesday night that Richardson's most recent remarks harmed the university and that he couldn't guarantee the coach's job was secure.
``There has been a lot of damage overall to the program. Coach Richardson recognizes that,'' White said late Wednesday before the school imposed a virtual news blackout. ``We have to have that discussion. There's going to have to be a very frank discussion of where we are and about going forward.''
Sources familiar with Richardson's contract said it has a buyout clause that would require the university to pay 50 percent of the amount still due under the seven-year pact. With just over six years left on the deal, the amount would total about $3 million.
Arkansas plays Vanderbilt on Saturday. Anderson said the mood at practice Thursday ``was somber at first, but once we got on the floor we visited a little bit.''
``It's a very emotional time, to say the least, with everything that's going on, but this team is a big-time family,'' Anderson said.
After the workout, junior forward Alonzo Lane said the university should keep Richardson as coach.
``It would be the right thing to do to bring him back,'' Lane said. ``They just don't know what he means to this program. He built this place and he's been treated rough.''
Gov. Mike Huckabee came to Richardson's defense Thursday.
``I think he's one of the truly great people I've known, and I have appreciated that he has overcome more than most people,'' Huckabee said. ``That's one of the things that a lot of people now don't fully comprehend.
``They haven't walked in his shoes. They haven't taken his journey. They may not fully understand some of the deep feelings that he carries inside. There's a wonderful success story in Nolan Richardson.''
State Sen. David Malone, the executive director of the University of Arkansas Foundation, said he was hopeful that cool heads would prevail and that a satisfactory end could be reached.
``A lot of it is going to depend on ... his discussions with the athletic director and the chancellor and the president of the university,'' said Malone, who heads a foundation that raised $90 million for academic programs last year.
``He (Nolan) recognizes he works for those people. They're in an incredibly difficult position because whatever they do there are going to be some people unhappy, but I hope that's how they go about trying to solve it.''
Richardson said in his postgame radio show after the Mississippi State game that ``whether the rumors are true or not, I won't speculate. But I always say, `Where there's smoke, there's fire.'''
Richardson has coached at Arkansas for 17 years and took the team to the NCAA tournament in 14 of the previous 16 years. In his tenure, the Razorbacks advanced to the Final Four in 1990, 1994 and 1995. Arkansas beat Duke for the title in 1994 and lost to UCLA in the 1995 championship game.
The university's student-run newspaper, The Arkansas Traveler, said in an editorial Friday that the school should do what it can to make sure Richardson stays.
``For 17 years, Nolan put this university on the map. Bud Walton Arena was built for him, and he christened it with a National Championship banner,'' the paper wrote. ``Though he might have not expressed himself very well off the court Monday, the banners in Bud Walton Arena speak volumes.''
``Nolan deserves to be the coach as long as he wants to, which, hopefully, will be long enough to hang another National Champion banner here.''