The Basketball Hall of Fame announced its newest inductees on Monday morning and one of the lucky selections was former coach Nolan Richardson, who won more than 500 games during his career at Tulsa and Arkansas, including the 1981 NIT title and the 1994 NCAA title. From 1981-2001 he made the postseason every single year except one, including six trips to the Sweet 16 from 1990-1996. He was 1994 national COY and introduced the phrase “40 Minutes of Hell” to college basketball fans everywhere. Jon Teitel got to chat with the new Hall of Famer about playing for Don Haskins and celebrating with Bill Clinton. CHD congratulates Nolan on this well-deserved honor!
You played at Texas Western College (now UTEP) for Hall of Fame coach Don Haskins, what made Haskins such a great coach, and what was the most important thing you ever learned from him? He was a disciplinarian, so he saw to it that we competed hard day in and day out.
In 1980 you went 37-0 and led Western Texas to the national JC title. How much pressure was there on you as the first African-American coach in school history, and what did it mean to you to win the title? I always prided myself on doing the best job I possibly could: black coaches did not get a lot of opportunities. I knew that if there were to be any to follow me, I would have to do the job well as the 1st. I felt obligated both for myself and my race.
In the 1981 NIT in your very first year as head coach at Tulsa, Paul Pressey had 20 points, nine assists, seven steals in a two point win over West Virginia. Where does that rank among the best all-around postseason performances you have ever seen? That might be the top one. We had a bunch of JC players, but there are a lot of other things Paul did that you did not see in the stat sheet.
NIT MVP Greg Stewart made a game-winning shot with 30 seconds left to clinch a two point overtime win over Syracuse to win the title, was it extra-special to win it with several of your players who helped you win the JC title the previous season? No question. There were four of them who came with me to Tulsa. I remember that Bob Stevenson made the pass to Greg for the layup. It remains one of the greatest highlights of my coaching career.
What are your memories of the 1984 NCAA tourney (Milt Wagner made a 12-foot baseline jumper with five seconds left in a two point win by Louisville while Ricky Ross and Steve Harris combined to score 59 of your team’s 67 points)? I can see Wagner on the bench even now. He destroyed biggest of our biggest hopes to win a tourney game, Tulsa had not won the conference since 1955.
What are your memories of the 1985 NCAA tourney (Steve Harris scored 31 points in a four point loss to your alma mater)? We found out the day after Selection Sunday that our daughter had leukemia, so I turned the team over to my assistants while I sat by my daughter’s bedside. I went to Albuquerque on a private jet just for that game, which I will never forget. I did not want to go but my wife and daughter wanted me to go, so I flew in and then flew right back. UTEP shot 55 free throws but still only won by four points: I think it was one of the most unjustly called games that I have ever been around.
In the 1990 NCAA tourney as head coach at Arkansas, Todd Day scored 25 PTS and put back his own missed shot with 2 seconds left in a 2-PT win over Dayton: where does that rank among the most clutch shots you have ever seen? That was big. You have to get the right break at the right time and he came through like a champ, so we were fortunate to move on.
Christian Laettner had 19 points and 14 rebounds in a win by eventual national runner-up Duke, what was it like to face off against Coach K in March? I think it was my first time facing Coach K. We played well until the final 10 minutes of the game. The thinness of the air in Denver got to us down the stretch. We took so much out of Duke that their game against UNLV was not even a contest (the Rebels won the title by a score of 103-73, which remains a record for largest margin of victory in the title game).
What are your memories of the 1992 NCAA tourney (David Vaughn scored 26 points and put back his own missed shot in a two point win by Memphis State)? They had beaten us in a similar fashion earlier that year and that was a big break. Survive and advance was our motto.
You beat Duke in the 1994 title game with then-President/former Arkansas governor Bill Clinton in attendance: what did it mean to you to win the title, and did Clinton say anything to you after the game? Clinton was with us in the regional in Dallas as we tried to get to the Final 4. After we won it all I had a chance to visit with him again. To have a president rooting for you at your game is great.
In the 1995 NCAA tourney Randy Bolden (an 80% free throw shooter) missed a free throw with six seconds left in a one point loss by #15-seed Texas Southern. Did you think they were going to pull off the huge upset? That worried me a lot even though we beat them by 40+ points in the preseason. It was hard to watch them have a chance to win: we were just lucky to get out of there. I knew they would be up to play us.
All-time Big East leading scorer Lawrence Moten called a timeout that his team did not have with four seconds left in regulation in a two point overtime loss by Syracuse. How does it feel to win a game that involves such a mental error? It is the sad part about the game. I remember watching Chris Webber call a timeout at the end of the 1993 title game. It was an omen to me: I thought we could go all the way. Some people call it luck but I call it a blessing.
Ed O’Bannon had 30 points and 17 rebounds in a win by UCLA in the title game, how close did you come to winning back-to-back titles? The only thing that bothers me to this day is that we were good enough to win back-to-back titles, but give UCLA credit: Cameron Dollar and Toby Bailey and the O’Bannons all had tremendous games. Scottie Thurman had not really shot the ball well and Corliss Williamson was bottled up quite a bit. That 1 will stick with me for awhile. The worst thing that happened to me is that I did not have the anger that I usually have going into a game. I received a courage award that afternoon, and after seeing a slideshow involving pictures of my daughter I just never felt in control of things that I was normally in control of. I was abnormally subdued because I knew how much she loved the game.
What are your memories of the 2001 NCAA tourney (Nat Burton made a layup as time expired in a two point win by Georgetown)? You go through your mind and wonder if you should have fouled earlier, but that was a game that we could have won. If you are in this business long enough you will win some and you lose some.
You are the only head coach to ever win a JC title, NIT title and NCAA title. What made you such a great coach, and how were you able to be so successful at so many different levels? The key to my success was the people I had on my staff and the fact that my players believed in my system of getting up and getting after you. It was a unique kind of game so everyone on my team knew they would have an impact.