Connect with us

Clay Henry

CLAY HENRY: Nolan would not have played for Nolan

How legendary former Razorbacks’ coach would have deal with today’s world of NIL coaching college athletes and his great players.



Nolan Richardson got a belly laugh out of the question about Name Image and Likeness.

It was part of a phone discussion last month after John Calipari was named Arkansas basketball coach.

For the record, Richardson approves of the hire and looks forward to watching high quality talent play for the Razorbacks. One Hall of Fame coach is happy that his school has hired another Hall of Famer.

“It’s a fit,” Richardson said of Calipari. “Anytime you put a guy like Cal at a top five school like Arkansas, it’s a fit. It’s an amazing fit actually.

“What you have now for Cal at Arkansas is that giving him resources is legal. He’s a top recruiting guy at a great school with the right resources.

“What other fit would you imagine? You have a guy who already has done it at a place that has done it. He’s got the dollars with which to do more than anyone.”

Of course, Richardson did it at Arkansas without NIL. He coached the Hogs to the national title in 1994 and to the title game in 1995. There was another Final Four trip in 1990.

But back to my question that started the laughter.

“What could Nolan have done in the NIL era?” I asked.

Oh, yes, the old coach did laugh and laugh hard.

“I talked to Mike (Anderson) about this exact thing,” Richardson said. “I don’t think it would have gone well.”

He turned it around to his thoughts of what players are like these days. What would he have thought as a player about playing for a coach like Richardson.

“Nolan the player would not have played for Nolan the coach in these days of NIL,” he said. “I would have just left. I would have left if someone coached me like I coached.”


“Nolan Richardson the coach was an asshole,” Richardson said. “Nolan the player wouldn’t have lasted with me for very many days. Why? You go somewhere else and get more money.”


Richardson talked to some coaches still in the game who are struggling with how to manage players.

“Let’s face it, it’s a pro league now,” he said. “You manage more than coach. Players don’t want to be coached. They just want to get paid.

“I don’t think my style of coaching would work in this time of NIL. Players get tired of hard coaching and quit. They take the money somewhere else where the coach LOVES them. They don’t want to be coached, they want to be loved.”

It is about the money.

“I’ve heard that Cal is getting $40 million for five years and his players may get $30 million over five years,” Richardson said. “Who has ever heard of anything like that? That doesn’t even count what assistants are going to get. No one is eating hamburgers.”

It reminded me of one of my favorite Richardson stories, the difference between his players and those at schools like Duke and North Carolina.

A much repeated Richardson line: “They had McDonald All-Americans. I had Burger King All-Americans.”

Richardson laughed again.

“That started when I was at Tulsa, maybe our first year,” he said. “I was involved in a promotion with a local Burger King owner, really close to campus. We sold him advertising on the season tickets. He agreed to give away a burger if we went over 100 points.”

Tulsa had averaged in the 60s the previous season under Jim King. The Burger King owner didn’t think 100 points likely any time soon.

There was one problem, the team Nolan brought from Western Texas Junior College routinely scored 110 and sometimes 120 points. He brought four starters and added Anderson from another junior college.

“I was trying to get something on our court, an advertisement,” he said. “I thought maybe Burger King would like that.

“So I started calling our players Burger King All-Americans. I told the Burger King guy, look at ORU, they have written on the court, Expect a Miracle. I wanted our court to read Expect a Burger King.

“I think we would have gotten to that point, except we went over 100 times nine times over the first few years of that promotion. So he dropped it.

“I never stopped talking about my Burger King All-Americans even after going to Arkansas. Maybe I should have picked Wendy’s or another burger place and they would have stuck with it. But it was always Burger King with me even after I got here.


“That promotion didn’t cost him much the first year because we didn’t sell many season tickets. But we were sold out ahead of the second year. A 100-point game was expensive for Burger King.”

Now the local business owners aren’t giving to the school. They are funding player NIL deals.

“They are for sure,” Nolan said. “I don’t know how that all works, but I know players are not walking around wearing blinders. They see what the other player is getting. Like I said, it’s not coaching.

“It’s managing players who were bought and that’s tough.”

Toughness was always the number one trait Richardson recruited. But he also looked hard for basketball intelligence. He had some incredibly smart basketball players.

“Probably the best, my number one player in that regard was Paul Pressey (at Tulsa),” he said. “If I had a top four, Paul was first. He could beat you in so many ways.

“I always said he just decided each game what was needed, defense, or steals, or assists, or points. If he needed to score, he did.

“Next on that top four list, I’d put Scotty Thurman. Paul Pressey was a bitch but so was Scotty. He could do so many things and some you never even noticed.”

Everyone remembers the Thurman 3-pointer at the end of the national title game just over 30 years ago. Richardson said it was just one of many clutch shots Thurman nailed for the Hogs.

“You talk about big, go back to some of the games in his freshman year,” Richardson said. “How about Arizona and Missouri on the road for a true freshman?”

Thurman roasted the Lute Olson matchup zone at Tucson for 28 points and two games later ripped Missouri for 34 points.

“I know a lot of people think Corliss (Williamson) was our most valuable player and he was fantastic,” Richardson said. “But if we sat Corliss on the bench, that team still did well. Scotty got steals, assists and fixed things in our trap. He saw things before anyone else.

“We could not have played without Scotty. We could lose Big Nasty, but we could not stand for Scotty to be out for even a few minutes. He just did so many things.

“The thing I remember about Scotty as a freshman, he was 17 when he was making those clutch shots. Not many freshmen have ever brought that much to the table at that age. That’s why I rate him so highly.”

Richardson thought he was about to enroll another Pressey/Thurman type until he was fired in 2002.


Andre Iguodala of Springfield, Ill., had signed with the Hogs in the early signing period. He was released from his letter of intent after Richardson’s departure.

The 6-6 guard was an All-Pac 12 player at the end of two seasons at Arizona, then played 14 years in the NBA. He scored almost 14,000 points and was a part of four NBA championships with the Golden State Warriors. He was the most valuable player in the 2015 NBA finals.

“He was as good a player as we ever signed,” Richardson said. “He played such great defense. He was long and athletic like Pressey. We worked hard to sign him and then he kind of blew up as a senior. We knew what we had.

“We’d signed Pookie Modica, too, perfect for our system, and had J.J. Sullinger coming back,” Richardson said. “Matt Jones had played for us. I liked him a lot.

“I say this often, that was going to be the most athletic gourp I’d ever had. We were reloading.”

Richardson thought there would be another reloading in 2005 when Mike Conley and Greg Oden would have probably signed with the Hogs. There was another Sullinger in the pipeline.

“I believe that,” Richardson said. “Those boys traveled the country in AAU playing for Mike (Conley, Sr.) in a van I gave them. It was the only thing (with high ceilings) they could find big enough for Oden.”

Oden, a 7-0 center, would be the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft. Oden and Conley played two years at Ohio State after winning three state titles at Indianapolis Lawrence North High School.

“Mike grew up in my backyard before they moved to Indianapolis,” Richardson said. “His daddy and I shared a property line. I bought his property when they left when Mike took the job in Indiana.

“Young Mike calls me to play golf every time he’s in town. I try to go. I would expect they would have played for me.”

Maybe Nolan Richardson could have kept them for a few seasons. That was back in the time when players couldn’t bail after a coach put them through 40 minutes of hell on the practice floor.