Coach Goes Over The Line

Columnist Phillip Marshall comments on Auburn and SEC basketball, football and baseball.

Nolan Richardson was wrong. He knows he was wrong.

When Richardson went ballistic at his news conference last Monday, he said some things that are going to be hard to take back. He stressed what is, for him, a familiar theme that he is viewed differently because he is black. He ripped into reporters with whom he had complaints, but he didn't stop there. He essentially lumped us all together as racists.

That's not fair.

I'm sure there are reporters out there who are racists, but I'm not and I don't another reporter who is. Most people I know, including me, who cover Southeastern Conference basketball have a lot of respect for Richardson and what he has done in his 17 years at Arkansas.

Richardson is a good man. He's done a lot for a lot of young men who have come his way. Those who know him well say he is generous and caring. This time, he was out of line.

Does that mean he should lose his job? That's a question Arkansas officials will have to answer. He won't lose his job for blasting reporters. If he loses his job, it will be because of the other things he said. He essentially said Arkansas was not a good place to be if you are black. He challenged Arkansas administrators to buy out his contract. Reports out of Fayetteville on Wednesday said he was going to have his contract bought out for $3 million. If that's true, it had not happened as of early Thursday. I hope it doesn't happen, but Richardson might have gone too far this time.

NEAR MISS

It goes down in the record book as a loss, but Auburn's basketball team made a statement about the future Wednesday night in Tuscaloosa.

The Tigers didn't win, but they could have won. Unlike in trips to Starkville and Gainesville, they didn't go south when things got bad. The fell behind by 14 points early in the second half, then charged back and had a chance to win in the final minute.

It's too late to make much out of this season. Auburn will probably beat LSU at home Saturday, but it will the No. 6 seed in the West regardless. That means the Tigers' first-round SEC Tournament opponent will probably be Kentucky or Florida. That probably will mean an early end to the season.

Should this season have been better? No doubt it should have been. But the future seems bright. The Tigers should be much improved next season. By the time the freshmen on this team are juniors they should be contending for a championship.

Those calling for a coaching change might as well save their breath. Cliff Ellis isn't going anywhere.

Speaking of the SEC Tournament, it should be most interesting. The SEC might never have been stronger from top to bottom. Even last-place Auburn has a win over Alabama, the overall champion, and East Division leader Georgia. My pick to win it? I'll go with Florida.

NEAR MISS NO. 2

Auburn's baseball team was swept in a three-game series at Clemson last weekend, but that should not be cause for alarm. The Tigers could have won them all and certainly should have won on Sunday.

Pro scouts say Clemson is the most talented team in the country with a dozen or more big-time Major League prospects. Look for Steve Renfroe and his team to more than hold their own in the SEC and be in their usual spot in a regional when it's all said and done.

SPRING ACTION

Auburn's football team will begin work on answering some big questions when spring practice begins Friday. No question is bigger than who will be the starting quarterback.

It should be an interesting duel between sophomore Jason Campbell and sixth-year senior Daniel Cobb. I'd say Campbell will come out on top, but that's not set in stone. Offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino will give Cobb a chance he might not have gotten under Noel Mazzone.

There will be an opportunity for young players to step forward on the defensive and offensive lines. What happens up front could be the deciding factor in what kind of season the Tigers have next fall.

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