State of the Hogs: Commentary

After sitting tight for several months, publisher Clay Henry provides his thoughts on the Nolan Richardson case. This is a commentary.

All sickness is not death. That was one of Nolan Richardson's favorite lines when things were not going so well for his teams. He used it often in the early years and again in the last years of his time as the Arkansas head basketball coach.

What went on in Little Rock over the past few months at the federal courthouse is not death, but there was much sickness. Things that have been said in and out of court are so sick that they at least flirted with death.

I cannot believe some of the things I've heard and read about the trial. I've heard rumors and read things in print that I know were said or done solely to hurt someone. In my mind, they have nothing to do with the law.

Nolan's testimony dealing with his contract negotiations aren't anything close to Kevin Scanlon's testimony, and Scanlon, Nolan's former agent, had memos and letters to back his testimony.

For example, Nolan claims he was denied incentives when his contract was negotiated. Scanlon has memos that point out that Nolan did NOT want incentives. What Nolan did want was all of his money up front and wanted it guaranteed no matter how his team fared. Guess what? He got what he wanted and in big numbers. Yes, he'd have made more if he had asked for a nice bonus if he won championships or trips to the Final Four. That's not what he wanted and Scanlon had the proof.

Of course, that did not fit what John Walker, Nolan's attorney, argued. The distortion of the facts has been extreme. Of course, Walker himself even said after one session in an attempt to discredit the other side, "That's what a good lawyer should do."

During the course of the trial, Nolan said many things that were wrong and hurtful. He trashed everyone and everything standing in his path. Some of Nolan's most biting statements were even directed at those who once supported and helped him.

Nolan once told me, "Don't sit on the fence when it comes to me. You can be neither hot nor cold. If you are luke warm, I spit you out."

Fine, I won't sit on the fence. Nolan, what you've done is wrong in every way, so spit me out. I've been smeared personally in this process. I figured that would happen. Too many members of the news media are writing stories without sitting in the courtroom. That's going to happen. Rumors of what has been said in court are flying wildly.

One of the wildest involves what happened at the Hawgs Illustrated Seniors Banquet several years ago. Frank Broyles sat beside me at the dinner along with 10-12 others at a big, round table. He made comments to several at that table, including several members of the media. Some boosters also heard his comments.

At that banquet, Broyles said that fans and boosters were calling him to say that Nolan's words about redneck SOBs were similar to if he had used the "N" word, except Broyles uttered the word. A Little Rock columnist reported several weeks ago that I taped those conversations with Broyles and then took that tape to Nolan the next morning. When I challenged the columnist in a phone call, he said that Nolan said that in testimony. He told me personally he got that from his newspaper, but he was mistaken in how he interpreted the vague references to my testimony and Nolan's in his own newspaper. Those in the court room throughout quickly recognized the columnist was mistaken.

I understand the difficulty in writing a daily newspaper commentary while serving as sports editor, too. Personally, I would never want that job. The hours required to do both jobs well makes it difficult to check facts and ensure the accuracy of every column.

Since the columnist struggled with the facts related to my testimony from the banquet, I'll provide them in this space.

First, I do not own a tape recorder. I don't believe anyone else at that table had one that night either. In talking to Coach Broyles of late, he's never believed a tape exists. If a tape had existed, it would have been the first piece of evidence presented in court. That is absurd anyway when you think about it. Who would tape a dinner conversation at an awards banquet? I do not know who told Nolan of Frank's comments that night. I do know it was not me.

A few days after the banquet, I mentioned Coach Broyles' comments to my father. I was surprised when he said he had already heard of Broyles' remarks, from Nolan. Nolan told my father that two people sitting at that banquet table with me and Coach Broyles had already told him what Broyles had said.

Dad advised me if the events surrounding the banquet ever came came up, to tell the truth because the rumors had already gotten out of hand as to exactly what had been said that night. Several months later after a basketball practice, Nolan did ask me about the comments from Broyles. He said he knew of them. He had a distorted version of the remarks, just as my father had predicted. I told him what was true and what was not true.

Two years later, during the final week of my father's life, Nolan called me on my cell phone. I was in Malvern tending to my father, along with Hospice nurses and my stepmother. I was sleeping days (on a tranquilizer) and working nights tending to my father at night while others slept. Nolan called me and wanted to talk about the banquet. At first, I was unaware that he was taping my comments because in Arkansas it is not required that the other party know. But, during the conversation, he told me that it was being taped.

I learned a lesson that day, a painful lesson. In fact, Nolan has taped many phone conversations. During my three-hour deposition in this case, before the trial started, I was told by John Walker that Richardson "routinely" tapes his phone conversations. That deposition was one of the worst things I've been through. I told the truth to every question, just as I did on the witness stand in court last month.

That part did not bother me. I can always tell the truth. My father taught me that long ago. What bothered me were some of the questions that were asked by Walker. He delved into my father's relationships between Richardson and Broyles. Walker wanted to know what one said about the other.

Really, he didn't want to depose me, he wanted to depose my father through me. What everyone must know is that my father didn't talk badly about either Richardson or Broyles. He loved them both. He had strong relationships with both. He spoke fondly of both in the final days of his life. One of the things my father told me years ago always stuck with me and helped me understand how Nolan reacted to being fired.

"The bitterness in his life toward certain people will always dictate how Nolan reacts to every situation," my father said. "What you must always remember is that Nolan's anger has nothing to do with the color of his skin. It is the thickness of his skin."

Those thoughts were clear even as I introduced Richardson to provide the final thoughts at my father's memorial service. It was a tough event for many reasons. What I knew that day continues to eat at my heart and soul. I knew that my father actually preferred Louis Ramsay and/or Alan Sugg to deliver that speech. But I found out about that after all the final plans were completed.

Richardson was asked to speak at the service two months before my father died, after a phone call to me from my stepmother. It was during a time that we thought my father might pass because of complications from chemotherapy. As it turned out, he quit the cancer medicine and got a burst of energy and lived another two months.

I was told that it was my father's choice (by my stepmother) to have Nolan speak. Nolan had taken extra care to check on my father almost daily from the time that he was diagnosed with cancer. Their relationship had been reinforced because of that. I went to Nolan and he agreed. Our meeting was emotional. We sat in the stands after practice, the only people in the arena.

Just after Nolan made his last visit to my dad's house in the final week of his life, my younger brother and I discussed the final plans with Dad. He mentioned that it would be good to have Ramsay and/or Sugg speak as representatives and specifically requested that no coaches speak, not wanting to show a preference. He enjoyed working with many Arkansas coaches in his nearly 60 years covering the Razorbacks.

So what do you do? No one wanted to "uninvite" Nolan at that point. He had just been fired and was extremely close to my stepmother. I was torn apart. My stepmother, along with my stepsister, talked about how to procede and decided to keep things the way they were set. My stepmother has since told me, "I thought your dad would want Nolan. I really did." There's no doubt in my mind she felt that way.

None of this has been fun. Burying your father (and your best friend) is a horrible experience. There is some good, of course. He is no longer in pain.

Mine continues. I see the damage being done by all of what has happened in so many areas. Of course, that was the purpose of the lawsuit in the first place.

I've been asked, many times, what would your father say, what would he write about the current situation?

I don't really know the exact content, but I know he would probably not pick a side that is obvious to those trying to figure out what the judge will do. My father would write what he thought was best for the state of Arkansas. That's what he always did. He didn't tear down, he built things up. And, he'd write the truth.

I know that's what we all ache for right now. There will be a few more days before this nightmare is done in Little Rock. Things will calm. Normal routines will return. Once again we'll be talking about playing Texas, or Alabama, or Georgia or Florida.

So, why did I write all of this? Because it's the truth and it's what I was taught. Nothing but good can come of it.

The other thing that I was taught was to run from bitterness. Don't let it eat you up. Love your family, work hard at your job and try to enjoy life. Some of those involved in this ordeal aren't doing that right now. They have let bitterness and hatred consume their lives.

I will not let that happen. I will not allow others to control my life or let the rumors or the talk of what I may or may not have done affect my life. I know the truth and will let that stand.

All sickness is not death, but it is way past time for the healing to begin.

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