Ready for the sequel

By Jimmie Tramel
Updated: November 21, 2009

Nolan Richardson stands outside his new team's home, the BOK Center. He has been hired to coach Tulsa's WBNA team, formerly known as the Detroit Shock.

Nolan Richardson stands outside his new team's home, the BOK Center. He has been hired to coach Tulsa's WBNA team, formerly known as the Detroit Shock.

TULSA — Sylvester Stallone made Rocky and Rambo sequels when he was in his 60s. Nolan Richardson, 67, is ready to crank out a sequel, too. “Forty Minutes of Hell, Part Two,” Richardson said, smiling.

If you missed the original 40 minutes of hell, be advised it’s not something you can find on the Rob Zombie rack at a DVD store.

Forty minutes of hell was what opponents often endured when Richardson coached college basketball from 1980-2002. His Tulsa and Arkansas teams were instructed to attack from start to finish.

Richardson envisions the sequel being different in gender only. He is the head coach and general manager of Tulsa’s yet-to-be-named WNBA team and he intends to stick with the unconventional style that produced 508 wins and an NCAA title.

“I believe in pressure at both ends of the floor,” he said.

“It is fast break on one end and it is pressure on the other end. You hope that you can have 40 minutes of it.”

Richardson can’t think of a reason that would prevent women from playing his way. WNBA players are elite athletes. And, thanks to a 24-second shot clock, players are getting up and down the court anyway.

Richardson expects his style to be embraced by players because it will allow more of them to be involved. In order for players to go all-out all the time, they’ll need breathers. Ten players averaged at least 9.6 minutes of court time a game during Arkansas’ 1994 NCAA championship season.

“It’s more team-oriented than seven people playing and the other five watching,” Richardson said. “If you come play for me, you are not coming to sit. And I’m not hiring you to sit. You come to play.”

Embracing challenges

Richardson has coached at the high school, junior college, major college and international levels. He has never coached women, unless you count basketball camps.

Jeff Rahilly believes Richardson can coach anyone.

“He coaches to your potential and he coaches to your spirit,” the former TU player said. “I think he will be an excellent WNBA coach.”

Richardson said coaching is coaching and there is no difference in what you teach.

“I have had some coaches that I was surprised at call me and say, ‘Coach, I think you will love it.’ Women are not like the men in the pro sports. You are not dealing with a whole lot of egos.”

Former NBA player Brent Price of Enid said his father, Denny, had three sons and coached men’s teams his whole life. Then financial difficulties hit Phillips University while Denny was serving as the school’s athletic director. Denny helped Phillips out of a jam by coaching the women’s team.

“I think it might have been the most fulfilling two years of coaching he ever had,” Brent said. “He got them to the NAIA national tournament and they just loved him. He was just kind of like a father figure to them.”

Go ahead and tell Richardson he isn’t capable of coaching women. Tell him he’s too old and gray-haired, too.

“I love that,” he said. “I love doubters. I think it’s important to have doubters. I think it’s important to me. I don’t want to hear everybody say, ‘He can do it.’ There’s no challenge if I can do it. Those who say I can’t do it, those are the ones I have to prove it to.”

Second home

Richardson admits he can’t help but feel nostalgic about returning to Tulsa.

This is the city where he got his first opportunity to coach Division I basketball. He said his family “dearly loves” Tulsa. He said a sister, a son and a grandchild still live here.

“I am here all the time,” said Richardson, who lives on a ranch in the Fayetteville, Ark., area. “It’s kind of like home away from home. For me to think about coming back to where I really got my start, I don’t have to brainstorm that.”

Richardson was 119-37 with three NCAA Tournament appearances in five seasons at Tulsa. After his first TU team won an NIT championship, a crowd estimated at 10,000 showed up for a downtown celebration. Richardson gets chills when he thinks about it. But can lightning strike twice in the same city? He asked himself that question during a feels-like-a-sermon introductory press conference at the BOK Center and said, “Absolutely, because I’m involved.”

Richardson said some things are meant to be.

“Maybe this is one of those times. I don’t question the good man upstairs. But I have been away from here for years. How does it come to be that a WNBA group is hoping your presence will encourage fans to come out and support the team and you live an hour and 45 minutes away. How does that happen?

“Maybe this is what I was supposed to do. Maybe I was supposed to take a rest and come back.”

‘I hate losing’

Because of Richardson’s history here, perhaps he has a better chance of attracting ticket-buyers than if the team had hired an “outsider” with a great WNBA resume. Investor David Box said Richardson put butts in seats everywhere he coached.

But Richardson doesn’t want to be only a drawing card. He wants to W-I-N.

“I hate losing,” he said. “I hate it worse than anything I know.”

Richardson is the only coach to win a junior college national championship, an NIT title and an NCAA championship. He is intrigued by the possibility of adding a WNBA title to his collection.

“I’m a history buff anyway,” he said.

Richardson said you think about cutting down nets any time you accept a coaching job. That’s what he visualized when he first arrived at TU. He recalled that the university president gave him 200 complimentary tickets because nobody was going to games at the time.

“You could go and get a carton of milk and get a ticket to a game,” Richardson said.

After TU won big games early in Richardson’s first season, the president asked for the tickets back because people wanted them.

Richardson said it was one of the happiest moments of his life.

“At the time, Tulsa just didn’t have anything to rally around,” Richardson said.

“That team was able to get people excited. I brought in a bunch of junior college players and put them with Bob Stevenson and the other guys who were left and we performed. That’s all I asked of them is let’s work as hard as we can and see what happens. And that’s what I would expect from the female side of it, the same thing.”