Nolan Richardson was fired because, though he was/is a good coach, Nolan was irresponsible as the leader of the Razorback basketball program. It's easy to be a leader during good times, when your company's stock is soaring or your team is winning championships. Faults (and we all have them) are overlooked because "the bottom-line is the bottom-line". But the true mettle of a leader shows up when the inevitable tough times occur.
Can you imagine the CEO of a public company making this statement after an earnings warning (read losing streak): "I don't answer to the Wall Street Journal or the shareholders … I only answer to the Board of Directors … and as far as I'm concerned, the Board can give me my golden parachute tomorrow and I'm out of here."
By making this irresponsible statement as the leader of a company, the CEO has done three things: (1) devalued the company – as investors rush to dump the stock, (2) communicated a lack of concern about the company's future, and (3) issued an ultimatum to the Board. No CEO in the business world could survive that kind of lapse in judgment … even if he/she wanted to retract the statement.
That's exactly what Nolan did with respect to the University of Arkansas. Chancellor White and the BOT had no choice but to relieve Nolan of his duties. To do otherwise would have undermined the credibility of the entire university. I'm amused that some are still questioning "why" Nolan was fired.
Nolan – the same Nolan who endured tremendous adversity in route to becoming a Hall of Fame basketball coach – couldn't handle the comparatively mild adversity associated with a bad season. But, this is where it gets really confusing – especially for those that know Nolan well. While the "private" Nolan is as humble and self-effacing as anyone I've met, the "public" Nolan has a chip on his shoulder the size of a northern California Redwood.
It was that chip that wouldn't allow Nolan to turn the other cheek when his critics attacked. Oh, how I wish he would have let the private Nolan assume control of his body and said "I'm just going to have to work harder to get us back to the top" instead of "I didn't come over on the ship and I expect to be treated differently." But that wasn't Nolan.
His fire got him fired.
The really sad part is that Nolan Richardson, as one of the most successful and recognized African-Americans in our state's history, could have used his "beloved son" status to advance race relations in Arkansas to never-before-seen heights. Unfortunately, at least the way it appears today, the reverse may happen.
I can't finish this post without laying part of the blame for what happened to Nolan at Frank Broyles feet. I have to believe if there was open, honest communication between the two, Frank could have counseled Nolan on his frustrations with the media and maybe even kept Nolan's explosion from happening.
An open dialogue between Frank and Nolan probably would have resulted in Nolan having his "swan song" tour next year … getting standing ovations and rocking chairs at each SEC road game … and a huge celebration at Bud Walton for his final appearance (instead of a towel on an empty chair). Nolan deserved that kind of send-off for what he accomplished at Arkansas. I'm sad (and mad) it didn't happen.
If I could get to Nolan today, I would ask him to consider letting the private, humble Nolan take over … ask him to relieve John Walker of his duties … ask him to consider dropping any further action against the UofA … ask him to consider issuing a public apology for his actions that disparaged the school and state … and then tell him to stand back and watch as the entire Razorback fandom rushes to embrace him and give him the proper conclusion to a wonderful career.
One can only hope.
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