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Arkansas Buys Out Richardson's Contract for $3 Million

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) _ Arkansas ended a tumultuous week by buying out the contract of outspoken coach Nolan Richardson.

In a week in which Richardson complained he was treated differently because he is black, Arkansas bought out the last six years of his contract for $3 million on Friday.

``We believe it's time for a change in leadership for the best interests of the basketball program,'' athletic director Frank Broyles said.

Richardson won the national championship in 1994, took Arkansas to the title game the next year and led the Razorbacks into the postseason 15 of the last 16 seasons. But they are 14-14 this season after Saturday's victory over Vanderbilt and could miss the postseason for the first time since his first year at Arkansas in 1985.

Richardson had no comment and referred questions to Little Rock civil rights attorney John Walker, whom he hired this week.

Arkansas had the option of buying out Richardson's contract for $500,000 for each of the remaining six years of his seven-year pact. Sports information director Kevin Trainor said a clause would allow the school to stop paying Richardson if he took a job with another school.

Chancellor John White said outside his office Friday night that Richardson has until noon Monday to ask system President Alan Sugg to review the decision.

The chancellor said he did not consider the matter a civil rights issue.

``I still believe that we resolved this amicably. I hope that Coach Richardson sees it that way too,'' White said.

The announcement followed two days of talks between the 60-year-old coach and the university, including a session Friday with two lawyers for the school and Richardson's lawyer and agent.

Broyles said assistant coach Mike Anderson would take over as interim coach, adding that the school would begin seeking a replacement when appropriate.

Arkansas beat Vanderbilt 81-67 on Saturday in its final regular-season game, and will play in the Southeastern Conference tournament. It is unlikely the team would make the NCAA tournament, but an NIT bid might still be possible.

White, who had been a Richardson supporter, said the decision was difficult.

``He has made many valuable contributions to the University of Arkansas and has provided exemplary service to causes and charities throughout the state,'' White said in a statement. ``His legacy will last forever, but it is now time to look to the future.''

Members of the school's board of trustees were notified of the decision after it was made. Trustee J. Thomas ``Tommy'' May said he supported it.

``We regret the turmoil that surrounds this decision, but sometimes change is in the best interest of all parties,'' May said. ``I think that Coach Richardson has given us 17 years of great basketball here in Arkansas ... and certainly we all hate that it must end in this manner.''

Joe Kleine, a former Arkansas and NBA player who does color commentary on Arkansas broadcasts, said the school was hurt by Richardson's comments and by his release.

``His leaving will hurt recruiting, but what he said Monday hurt it too. It was a no-win situation,'' said Kleine, who played at Arkansas from 1983-85. ``You hate to see it happen to someone who has done so much for the program.''

In 22 years as a head coach, including five years at Tulsa, Richardson has a 508-206 record. At Arkansas, he was 389-169, winning five conference championships _ three in the Southwest Conference and two in the SEC. The Razorbacks also won three SWC tournaments and one SEC tournament.

At Tulsa and Western Texas Junior College, he won NIT and national junior college titles.

His departure leaves only one active black coach _ Kentucky's Tubby Smith _ with a national championship title.

Richardson was known for his blunt comments. In 1994, in detailing the difficulties of being a black coach in the South, he said, ``If I was white and I did what I've done here, they'd build statues to me.''

His racially tinged remarks this week, however, clearly upset the university.

Richardson first raised the possibility of a buyout last Saturday in Lexington, Ky. In discussing pressure on him and Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, who also is black, Richardson said: ``If they go ahead and pay me my money, they can take the job tomorrow.''

White initially said he attributed Richardson's comments to frustration over a difficult season.

Then, at a news conference Monday, Richardson said he was not answerable to fans or to the media. He complained about news coverage and noted that only white reporters were at the news conference.

``When I look at all of you people in this room, I see no one look like me, talk like me or act like me,'' he said. ``Now, why don't you recruit? Why don't the editors recruit like I'm recruiting?''

Richardson, the only black among the Fayetteville campus' 17 head coaches, also said he was treated differently because of his race.

``See, my great-great-grandfather came over on the ship, I didn't,'' he said. ``And I don't think you understand what I'm saying. My great-great-grandfather came over on the ship. Not Nolan Richardson.

``I did not come over on that ship, so I expect to be treated a little bit different,'' he said. ``Because I know for a fact that I do not play on the same level as the other coaches around this school play on. I know that. You know it. And people of my color know that. And that angers me.''

He said Tuesday that social life ``is not that good for a black athlete'' in Fayetteville. He said the characterization might not sound right, but that Arkansas is a ``place that they come to play basketball or come to play football.''

After those remarks, White said Wednesday that Richardson had 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.

Richardson's agent, Kevin Scanlon, said his client's comments were directed at the small percentage of hard-to-please Razorback supporters.

On Thursday, Richardson said he wanted to stay as coach.

``I enjoy where I am. I've worked extremely hard. We've got a good recruiting class coming in next year,'' he said. ``I had made those promises to the families, and so my interest has always been high in coaching. At this point, I still love the game.''
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