’40 Minutes of Hell’ Comes to WNBA

By Michelle Smith
Updated: October 25, 2009

CALIFORNIA — Nolan Richardson was doing his research, trying to decide if he wanted to accept the offer of the ownership group trying to bring a WNBA team to Tulsa, asking old friends what it was like to coach in the women’s game.

One of the phone calls he made was to LSU women’s coach Van Chancellor, whom Richardson knew from their SEC days (Chancellor coached the Mississippi women when Richardson was at Arkansas.) Chancellor spent 10 years in the WNBA coaching the Houston Comets to four WNBA titles.

“He told me that once you’ve dealt with women athletes, you are going to wish that you had coached them all your life,” Richardson said. By last Tuesday evening, Richardson was headed from Tulsa back to his home in Arkansas, ending a long day in which he was installed as the head coach and general manager of Tulsa’s new WNBA franchise.

It is not, however, a new WNBA franchise.

The good news for Tulsa was not such good news for fans of the Detroit Shock. After 11 seasons in Detroit, the Shock — winner of three WNBA titles — is leaving town.

Richardson, who led Arkansas to three Final Fours and an NCAA title in 1994, was approached by the new Tulsa ownership group before they knew they would be getting an established WNBA team.

The group hoped a high-profile name like Richardson, with ties to the Tulsa area, will help energize a small-market fan-base into quick acceptance of the city’s first pro franchise.

The fact that he has never coached women at the pro or college level was not a stumbling block. Richardson, 67, will have the job of helping the players make the transition to a new coach, a new city, a new fan base and a new way of playing the game.

The coach who spent 17 years stamping the men’s program at Arkansas with his aggressive, up-tempo, trapping, defensive-oriented game, plans to being his “40 Minutes of Hell” to this team.

“It’s going to be ’40 Minutes of Hell, Part II’,” the coach said. “The fans know who I am and they know how I coach.”

Richardson said he had not yet spoken with any of the players, many of whom have already reported to their winter teams overseas. He has nearly eight months before he will see his team in one place. He said he will respect the changes they are being asked to make.

“I’m so pleased and happy to be coaching a well-established basketball team,” Richardson said. “But it’s like any other job transition. I’m sure there’s going to be a period where things are not going to look the same. But that’s why they are professionals.”

Tulsa represents a homecoming for Richardson, who began his coaching career at the University of Tulsa in 1980, leading the team to the NIT title in 1981. He said he wouldn’t have taken the job if he didn’t think the community would support the team.

“They are going to fall in love with the team, I know that love affair is going to happen” Richardson said. “It’s hot in Tulsa in the summer. People will want to come in and watch basketball.”

Richardson said he has paid close attention to the WNBA in recent weeks. He said he was “glued to the television set” during the WNBA Finals.

“I didn’t know the Shock would be moving and I watched those games [in the Eastern Conference finals], too,” Richardson said. “These are the best players in the world.”

And the coach said he will tell anyone who will listen. He thinks he can convince some new fans (i.e. male mainstream basketball fans) to embrace the WNBA.

“Women’s basketball is big in Oklahoma and I would be really surprised if Tulsa doesn’t have great support for us,” Richardson said. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I could bring this team to the heights it deserves. This team has won three championships and we want to put it back there.”