LITTLE ROCK, ARK. Former Arkansas basketball coach Nolan Richardson's trial against the university began Wednesday with athletic director Frank Broyles testifying that Richardson seemed to lose his motivation for the job two years before he was fired.
"In my opinion, the program was going backwards and was not getting better because I didn't see the effort in recruiting and I didn't see the same fire," Broyles said.
Richardson was fired in 2002. He filed a discrimination lawsuit claiming wrongful termination against the university, its leaders and the nonprofit Razorback Foundation. U.S. District Judge William R. Wilson Jr. is hearing the case without a jury.
Richardson wants Wilson to declare that the university punished him for exercising his freedom of speech and subjected him to racial discrimination -- including retaliation for imposing limitations on future employment.
Arkansas officials said Richardson was fired because he showed a lack of faith in his program.
Broyles testified that he thought about firing Richardson in 2000, but reconsidered after the Razorbacks won four games in four days at the Southeastern Conference tournament and earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Richardson seeks reinstatement as Arkansas' coach, lost wages and damages for harm to his reputation, mental and emotional stress, and legal fees. However, Richardson has said he wouldn't return if Chancellor John A. White and Broyles still had their jobs.
In an opening statement, university lawyer Phil Kaplan said Richardson offered to accept a contract buyout as early as 1995 and privately repeated the offer several times. Kaplan also said that Richardson got angry during a 1998 meeting with Broyles and asked to be fired.