LITTLE ROCK, ARK. Weeks before former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson made comments that snowballed into his dismissal, the foundation that guaranteed his contract tried to muzzle him.
The Arkansas Razorback Foundation proposed a new contract for Richardson's "Rollin' with Nolan" television show in February that contained conduct clauses barring the coach from disparaging the university, and requiring that he "conduct himself soberly and with due regard to social convention and propriety."
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the "Host Services Agreement" from the university under the state Freedom of Information Act.
Richardson refused to sign the agreement and sent a sternly worded letter, obtained by the AP, to foundation president Chuck Dicus on Feb. 5. He said in the letter that he was "surprised and disappointed that you would ask me to review this document during the middle of our basketball season."
Richardson's response suggests that he was unhappy weeks before his comments Feb. 23 after a loss at Kentucky that he would step aside if the university bought out his contract.
Chancellor John A. White decided March 1 to terminate Richardson's contract with a $3 million buyout over six years. The former coach and UA system President Alan Sugg are scheduled to meet Monday as part of Sugg's review of Richardson's dismissal.
Richardson lawyer John Walker said the proposal should be read as an attempt to stifle free speech.
"He could reasonably have arrived at that conclusion," Walker said. "Anything that one says is then subject to somebody else's interpretation of what's disparaging, and grounds for termination."
In the letter, Richardson said the proposal was a distraction at a time when the team was "in the middle of a difficult season, facing our toughest schedule in years."
"We are about to embark on a critical recruiting period for rising seniors. My entire focus needs to be solely on my job as head basketball coach and on my team," he wrote.
"I cannot and will not let myself be distracted by thoughts of an additional agreement that is neither required nor anticipated, or with thoughts of the intent behind the significant new language proposed in the agreement."
Walker said the proposal was part of the impetus for the action that the university took.
Sugg's review is viewed as a prerequisite to possible legal action by Richardson. Walker said he would consider the coach's options after the meeting if Richardson is not reinstated as basketball coach, including possibly filing an injunction to delay the university's search for a replacement.
"We have that option, but I have not stated that was something we're going to do. I am researching the law to determine whether that option is viable so it can be utilized in the event the president does not reinstate coach Richardson," Walker said.
Arkansas bought out Richardson's contract after Richardson said twice publicly that, if the school would buy out his contract, he would leave. Before the contract was ended March 1, Richardson said he wanted to stay. Walker said Thursday that Richardson still considers himself the head basketball coach.
"He considers that he has not been terminated unless and until the review by President Sugg is final and upholds the decision of the chancellor," Walker said.