Richardson Feels Like A Proud Father

FAYETTEVILLE -- They don't miss a day. Every morning, afternoon or evening, without fail, one of their phones rings. Former Arkansas basketball coach Nolan Richardson is on one end. Missouri coach Mike Anderson is on the other.

Anyone who knows the 26-year history between the two would assume their conversations are comprised of only basketball chatter. The exact opposite often occurs. They speak about children and grandchildren. They reminisce. They discuss politics. And, of course, they do eventually talk some hoops.

"It's more like a father-son relationship than a player-coach or coach-coach relationship," Richardson said. "For a long time, it's been that way. He's one of the pride and joys of my life -- just like one of my kids or grandkids."

Their conversation on Thursday, of the face-to-face variety, should be quite interesting. That night, Anderson's Tigers host Arkansas in an 8 p.m. game in Mizzou Arena. Richardson, more than four years removed from his Razorback coaching career, will be there rooting on the man who played for him for two years and coached with him for 20.

He swears no bad memories will be dredged up upon watching the Hogs play in person for the first time since being forced out as coach. Just positive thoughts about the future of the man he mentored for so many years.

"It's just another ball game," Richardson said. "I'm just going to be there to see Mike, and I couldn't be prouder of what he's done."

First Impressions

Back in 1980, Richardson knew Anderson as a scrappy, gritty guard for Jefferson State (Ala.) Community College. He distinctly remembers watching Anderson singlehandedly lift his team into a championship-game showdown with Richardson's Western Texas Junior College squad.

"Mike just put the whole team on his back," Richardson said. "They were undermanned and really shouldn't have had a shot. But he got them into the final. At that time, I already wanted him to come with me to Tulsa."

Richardson accepted his first Division I coaching position before that tournament in Hutchinson, Kan., and traveled to Anderson's home in Birmingham, Ala., immediately after it. Anderson laughed when talking about Richardson's recruiting pitch.

"He sat there in my home and told my mom he was going to take a young boy and send me back a man," Anderson said.

Tulsa quickly turned into a consistent winner under Richardson. Anderson contributed to the Golden Hurricane's NIT Championship in 1981 and played in the 1982 NCAA Tournament, performing just as Richardson envisioned.

Anderson wasn't flashy. He wasn't the most gifted. He did average 12 points per game but was more known for his intelligence and dogged determination. The combination helped him thrive in the early stages of Richardson's "40 Minutes of Hell" style.

"No one worked harder than Mike, and I think that's why I wanted to give a chance at coaching," Richardson said.

After one year away from basketball, Anderson asked Richardson for that opportunity. A hefty problem existed, though. Richardson had no open spots on his staff. That didn't stop Anderson. He took a job, an unpaid job, as a volunteer assistant.

Richardson gets emotional speaking of the two years Anderson spent in that role at Tulsa.

"It was difficult for him," Richardson said. "He was my sole right arm taking care of some things I couldn't take care of at the time. I'd had him go places for me. He even did most of the things from when my daughter passed away at the time.

"I remember trying to get money out of my pocket to him so he could survive. But, you know what, he did what he had to do."

Moving To Arkansas

That persistence and commitment left no doubt in Richardson's mind when Arkansas named him as Eddie Sutton's successor. Anderson would accompany him -- no questions asked.

So, Anderson toughed out one more year as a volunteer.

"It was all part of my introduction to up-tempo basketball," Anderson said.

The next season, Richardson elevated him to a part-time assistant role. The season after, a full-time spot opened.

Richardson didn't even advertise for the position. It was Anderson's.

"I had wanted to do that for so long," Richardson said. "So it was so nice to finally get to do it."

And the rest, as Richardson put it, "is history."

For the next 14 seasons, Richardson and Anderson teamed up to take 12 teams to the NCAA Tournament. Only Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke won more games than the Hogs in the 1990s. Many of the talented players who dotted those rosters were identified by Anderson. Richardson said Anderson always impressed with his ability to spot potential.

"He always seemed to know who had a future and who didn't," Richardson said.

After being integral to the recruitment of players such as Todd Day, Lee Mayberry, Oliver Miller and Corliss Williamson, Anderson earned another promotion.

For the last eight years of his time in Fayetteville, Anderson went by the titles of "assistant head coach" and "recruiting coordinator."

Also throughout that span, numerous schools approached Anderson about head coaching positions. He quietly entertained a few offers, soliciting Richardson's advice in every situation.

These talks proved to both men that their relationship would always transcend basketball.

"He wouldn't just let me go anywhere," Anderson said. "I guess that's why I spent 17 years (at Arkansas)."

Richardson insisted there were no selfish intentions behind the advice he issued to Anderson.

He just wanted what was best for Anderson, like a father would want for his son, like a brother would want for his sibling.

"Mike had to make that move when it was right for him and the job was right for him," Richardson said. "I knew he'd eventually become a head coach, and be a great head coach. It was just a matter of timing."

On To UAB And Mizzou

Deep down, Richardson always had hoped Anderson would take his place in Fayetteville, carry on his legacy. But, after the fallout from his firing in 2002, Richardson now sees the benefit of Anderson moving on to Alabama-Birmingham.

"That was a great situation for him," Richardson said. "And he did a great job right from the start."

Exhibiting an up-tempo, pressing style almost exactly like Richardson's, Anderson swiftly turned around the Blazers' program. The year before Anderson arrived back in his hometown, UAB finished six games below .500. But in Anderson's first season, UAB went 21-13 and qualified for the 2003 NIT.

In 2004, he earned Conference USA Coach of the Year honors and led the Blazers to a second-round upset of No. 1 seed Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament.

His third year in Birmingham resulted in another stint in March Madness. Anderson did it his way, all the while crediting his mentor.

"I'm not Nolan Richardson," he said. "I'm Mike Anderson. But the things we do are very similar. I learned a lot of things from him. He's someone I respect so much. He's like my father."

That evident love, that lifelong bond, makes Thursday so special for Richardson and Anderson, who was named Missouri's coach in April. Sure, Richardson already has seen Missouri play twice this season.

And, by the way, the Tigers' ability to learn Anderson's system and start 7-0 has impressed him.

But both, as much as they'd like to ignore it, realize the implications of Thursday's game.

This is about the Richardson-Anderson connection finally competing against Arkansas for the first time, about the past versus the present.

Might make for a nice pregame chat, like they have most game days.

"I guess you'd say it's a story within a story," Anderson said. "Coach Richardson gave me the opportunity to feed my family No. 1, and he gave me the opportunity to really learn the craft of coaching.

"That's the side story. But to me, the real story is this is the next big game on our schedule. And, it just happens to be Arkansas."

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