LITTLE ROCK -- A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed an attempt by the University of Arkansas' athletic department fund-raising arm to reclaim money it has paid to Nolan Richardson, ruling that the fired coach has made adequate attempts to find work under terms of his contract.
The Razorback Foundation, which is buying out Richardson's contract at $500,000 a year through June 2008, had filed in a counterclaim to the ex-coach's discrimination lawsuit.
Under terms of Richardson's buyout, he had to seek a new job and any money he would receive coaching basketball at another school or with a professional team would reduce the foundation's obligation to him by the same amount. The Razorback Foundation said Richardson hadn't made serious attempts to find work.
But U.S. District Judge William R. Wilson Jr. said the ex-coach had looked for work and that Richardson's age, 62, and his lawsuit might be factors in his inability to find a job..
Arkansas fired Richardson on March 1, 2002, saying he had expressed a lack of faith in the Razorback basketball program by saying publicly he would leave the school if it bought out his contract. Richardson sued, alleging racial discrimination and a violation of his free speech rights.
Under Richardson's contract, the Razorback Foundation is buying out Richardson's $7.21 million contract at just under half its value.
The judge noted Tuesday that Richardson had hired agents to help him find work and that the coach had either had discussions or made inquiries to Auburn, Miami, Oregon State and Texas-El Paso.
"I think he used reasonable efforts to contact other universities and he has enlisted agents to look for a job for him," Wilson ruled. "It may be that the filing of this lawsuit hindered him from getting another job. I did not consider that in making my ruling.
"I think, on the balance, taking all the evidence on the mitigation issue, I think he has made reasonable efforts," Wilson said.
Richardson's wife Rose leaned over and kissed the ex-coach on the cheek as Wilson ruled.
Tuesday's decision dropped the foundation entirely from the discrimination trial. Last week, Wilson dismissed the foundation as a defendant, ruling that Richardson had not proven that it was his co-employer along with the University of Arkansas.
The lawsuit now involves only Richardson and the university. Wilson is expected to hear final testimony Wednesday - perhaps from Richardson, Arkansas system President B. Alan Sugg and Fayetteville campus Chancellor John A. White.
Closing arguments were scheduled for June 11 after Richardson's attorney, John Walker, said he needed time to prepare because the case includes some unique issues in regard to anti-discrimination law.
Richardson had returned to the stand Tuesday and said "disgrace and embarrassment" after his firing initially made it difficult to leave his Fayetteville home and look for work.
The ex-coach said he attended the 2002 Final Four in an attempt to network with other coaches - about a week after Sugg upheld the coach's firing in late March 2002.
"The only reason I came out of the house in that period of disgrace and embarrassment to me was because coaches around the country had started calling and asking me to be present," Richardson testified. "At that point, my head and my wife, we weren't ready for anything at that point."
Richardson said he spoke to Oregon State twice in spring 2002, but after the second meeting told the Beavers he wasn't ready to look for a job yet.
The ex-coach also testified that Texas-El Paso made an informal inquiry in October 2002 because Richardson is an El Paso native. UTEP said it actually wanted to hire an assistant coach from another program as its head coach - and couldn't afford a coach with Richardson's 25 years of major college experience, Richardson said.
This year, he said, he contacted Auburn and Miami (Fla.) about their openings.
Richardson also said he attended a coaches summer camp in 2002 that featured 10 college and 10 professional team coaches. Responding to a question by Wilson, Richardson said he believed his age was a factor in teams not showing much interest in him.
Richardson told foundation lawyer Mike Jones that no black coach had ever been fired from a college position and rehired later at another college, and the coach said later he didn't believe that he had bypassed his obligation to look for employment.
"I never expected that we, that I, hadn't done the right thing," Richardson said outside court.
Jones listed a number of fired white coaches who had been rehired - which Richardson said proved his point.
"I pointed out that most black coaches haven't resurfaced," Richardson said. "It was surprising (when Jones listed white rehired coaches), but at the same time, I don't know if they understand reality."
Also Tuesday, two more Arkansas board of trustees members said Sugg called them Feb. 24, 2002, to say Richardson would be fired. Richardson has claimed he was fired after a news conference Feb. 25, 2002, in which he used racially charged language. The university claims White and athletic director Frank Broyles agreed Richardson should be fired for the remarks he made publicly about his contract on Feb. 23, 2002.
Trustees Tommy May and Bill Clark also said Tuesday that Sugg called him on Feb. 24, 2002.
Six of the 10 trustees have said they heard on Feb. 24, 2002, that Richardson would be fired. Two others have said they heard from Sugg later.
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