Same Old Nolan Richardson Coaching Mexico At FIBA Americas Tournament
Former Arkansas coach is intense as ever
Aug. 25, 2007
LAS VEGAS (AP) -It takes a second or two to find Nolan Richardson at the FIBA Americas tournament.
The man who led Arkansas to the 1994 NCAA championship is coaching Mexico in this 10-team competition that will determine two berths in the Beijing Olympics. His hair - and trademark mustache - are gray, very gray. He has lost some of that football-player size that made him so imposing on the sidelines for so many years.
Then there's the voice. That hasn't changed one bit, in volume or intensity.
"Give me a timeout," Richardson yelled at the scorer's table Friday when Panama was on a 7-0 run to pull away from a 69-69 tie with Mexico.
The bark was loud in a nearly empty 18,000-seat Thomas & Mack Center at UNLV. It would have been loud in a sold-out arena during a rock concert.
There, you found Nolan Richardson.
The only man to lead a program to championships in junior college, the NIT and NCAA, is doing what he loves to do - coach. At 65, he has still has the energy and drive he did when he was leading Arkansas to consecutive national championship game appearances. It was seven years after that near-repeat run, in 2002, that he was fired by Arkansas.
He claimed he was fired because he is black and because he exercised his right of free speech. In June 2004, a judge ruled that Richardson failed to prove discrimination, and a federal appeals court later upheld the firing.
Richardson said he felt he had to use his position as a successful coach to stand up for what he thought was unfair treatment at Arkansas. He hasn't changed his feelings one bit, despite not having coached at the college level again.
"I felt that if I were to pass that (opportunity) and turn my head the other way and when this is all over and I had a chance to use the platform and I didn't, then I wouldn't be worth a quarter to myself, to my kids or to my grandkids," he said. "That's who I am."
This is Richardson's second stint as an international coach. He led Panama to a berth in the World Championships in 2006. He took over the Mexico program earlier this year and has changed a lot of things.
Long known for a half-court, slower style, Mexico is playing at a much quicker pace, forcing things with pressure defense. At Tulsa, where he won the NIT, and Arkansas, Richardson's teams were known for their "Forty Minutes of Hell" style. It's not quite "Cuarenta Minutos de Infierno" with his current team, but there are spurts of havoc on the court that have led to success.
"Mexico had always played a slow, pound it in kind of basketball," Richardson said after the 95-90 first-round loss to Panama. "That was our 22nd ballgame, 22nd, that's a whole lot of ballgames and the first they lost. They understand what we're trying to do, it just wasn't executed well today.
"I tell the players, line up 15 coaches. If I ain't better than them, then I need to quit. That's how I feel and that's how I want you to feel. It's all about to me what you believe in, and attitude plays a very important role in my life and it plays a very important part in the way I coach and what I do and why I think."
Richardson was born in El Paso, Texas, and grew up in a predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood.
"I played in Juarez and I played in Chihuahua and I played in Mexico City. We used to take teams over there in the '60s and some of those guys that are in charge today were young guys when I was a young guy playing," Richardson said. "They have kept up with all the things I have done because it's like a full cycle of my life where I started with Mexican kids at Bowie High School and now, after all these years, I returned back as their Olympic coach, not so much Mexican-American style, but a Mexico-Mexican style.
"All my job is to try to do what I could to get them qualified and it's a challenge. Mexico, it's not the dreamland of basketball. ... When I was approached about coaching them, it was like 'Well, you can't win any, you probably won't win any games or you can't do this, you can't do that.' So that's a challenge for me and that's all it is. I always liked to challenge what they say I can't do. Because all my life I've been an underdog at everything, even when we were champions we were underdogs. I think that's the biggest thing about me coaching, I love the challenge and I love teaching and I love to be different."
What hasn't changed is how Richardson treats losses. He was answering questions in both Spanish and English at a news conference after the loss to Panama, a far cry from the packed media sessions at Final Fours.
When he was asked if losing got any easier after 40 years in coaching, he didn't need a microphone to be heard loud and clear.
"Losing to me is losing and I hate losing more than anything I know," he said, edging to the front of his chair. "The day that I stop hating losing I don't ever want to coach again. ... When we lose it bothers me like the first day when I was 22 years of age and starting my coaching career. I still have that eating up inside."
There, you found Nolan Richardson.