?After making Richardson an assistant athletic director in 1990, following his first Final Four appearance, Broyles gave him few important duties related to the position and none related to his job description of facility manager when $30 million Bud Walton Arena opened in '94. Richardson alleges that when he asked Broyles about the assistant AD position in '99, Broyles told him, "Oh, that's just a token position." ( Broyles, who would not answer specific questions from SI about the lawsuit, has told university attorneys that he called the position "honorary," not "token.")
?In 1999 Broyles undercut Richardson's existing shoe contract with Converse by striking a university-wide deal with Reebok. ( Arkansas eventually bought out Richardson's Converse contract, and university lawyers will argue in court that they allowed Richardson to seek his own deal but that Richardson could not find a better one.)
? Arkansas attempted to muzzle Richardson, prohibiting him from speaking out on matters of racial discrimination. Specifically, Richardson was incensed at a late January 2002 demand, pertaining to Richardson's weekly in-season TV and radio shows, that "[ Richardson] will not, directly or indirectly, disparage the Producer, the University of Arkansas, the [Razorbacks] Foundation or any sponsor of the show for any reason." It is this issue that seems to have pushed Richardson over the top. (The school will claim that the demand was routine and was necessitated by a switch in TV-radio management, that football coach Houston Nutt also agreed to it and that its language was simply culled from a book of legal forms and was standard for TV personalities, "like weathermen or anchors.")
At its roots Richardson's lawsuit (for which no trial date has been set) is a fight between him and Broyles, an expression of the anger that has simmered for many years. "I think Nolan will lose," says Brewer. "But he'll try to destroy Broyles in the process. This is personal for Nolan. There's some truth to the things he's saying, but he's doing this the wrong way." Broyles is a formidable foe, a silver-haired Arkansas legend who could pass for two decades younger than his chronological age and who has been athletic director for a staggering 30 years. He casually asserts that he knows "just about everybody in the building" when he attends a home basketball game. Everyone calls Broyles "Coach," a nod to his 19 years as football coach from 1958 through '76, when his Razorbacks teams went 144-58-5 and won six Southwest Conference titles.
"If this is about taking sides, we're all on Coach Broyles's side," says longtime Arkansas booster Dick Stockland, a retired Tyson Foods executive who owns skyboxes for football and basketball games. "He's done more for this university than any other single individual."
Meanwhile, many Razorbacks fans seem weary of Richardson. "At one time these fans did love Nolan," says Arkansas booster Trevor Lavy, owner of a Fayetteville bank and mortgage company. "But then it was clearly time for him to go."
Yet Richardson insists that his phone rings after Arkansas losses, and voices—of fans, friends, former players—implore him, Coach, come get your old job back. "It's a sad situation," says Todd Day, who played for Richardson from 1988-89 through '91-92 and is the school's leading career scorer. "He should still be coaching the Razorbacks. Now he's bitter, and after everything he did for the program, he feels like he didn't get anything back."
Richardson's program, however, had fallen off in recent years. From 1988-89 through '94-95 the Hogs (who switched from the Southwest Conference to the SEC after the 1990-91 season) won six conference or division tides, averaged more than 28 wins and went to three Final Fours. In the seven seasons after, they didn't win a conference regular-season title, averaged fewer than 20 wins and advanced as far as the Sweet 16 only once. Richardson also was widely criticized for his team's low graduation rate: The NCAA's most recent four-class average for Arkansas men's basketball is 10%, compared with 44% for all the university's student-athletes.
Heath, who took Kent State to within one game of the Final Four last year in his first season as a head coach, says of this year's players (two of whom he recruited), "Everybody knows that this team is the least-talented team at Arkansas in a long time; the truth is, there's not one guy here who would have started on my Kent State team."
Richardson argues emphatically that the freshman class he recruited for this season was strong. Three of those players are in Fayetteville, including the team's leading scorer, guard-forward Jonathan Modica (12.5-point average through Sunday); two signees went elsewhere after Richardson was fired. "I recruited my ass off last year," says Richardson, smacking the heel of his meaty hand on his kitchen counter. "I was loaded for bear again. I had runners and jumpers and trappers! Forty Minutes of Hell was back! And then they crucified me."