40 Minutes of Hell

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In Case You Missed It…40 Minutes of Hell

ESPN aired another of its SEC Storied franchise this weekend covering a non-football topic for the first time. “40 Minutes of Hell” takes on Nolan Richardson and his Arkansas Razorbacks basketball squads. Now bear in mind, the hour long installment can only cover so much the documentary, narrated by the venerable and extremely bald Charles S. Dutton, focuses on Strollin’ Nolan’s rise to prominence from a JV high school coach at Bowie High School in El Paso to a National Title with the Razorbacks in 1994 and then quickly and summarily handles his removal as coach. Nolan and the Razorbacks were the scourge of the old Southwest Conference’s basketball universe and as a kid who followed college basketball more than any other sport I remember the way they used to invade Reunion Arena for the conference tournament temporarily renaming the now demolished venue “Barnhill South.” I liked the show but here are three glaring issues/omissions with the 60 minutes on the 40 minutes.

Where’s Frank?

The most glaring omission was the lack of an interview or even footage of former Arkansas Athletic Director Frank Broyles. Broyles brought Richardson to Fayetteville and was part of the group that eventually got rid of Nolan in 2002. This is like telling the Tom Landry story without mentioning Jerry Jones or like telling the story of Paula Dean and not interviewing butter. The documentary levied a slew of accusations at the University’s administration and then only told one side. Perhaps Broyles declined to participate, that was never addressed, but his omission from the story leaves a gaping hole in the narrative that hasn’t been seen this side of Jalen Rose’s epic of self-importance and black socks “The Fab 5.” One sided story telling, a great way to push an agenda, a bad way to find your way to accuracy.

You’ve Overplayed Your Hand Nolan, and by Hand I Mean the Race Card

Nolan spends a lot of time talking about his place as a coach. How misunderstood he was. How he was seen as a great recruiter, not a great coach. How his teams were seen as athletically gifted, not schematically well versed. That’s great and all but here’s the deal, Richardson and Charles S. Dutton’s commentary keep coming back to the racist, underdog theme all the while reporting on, but ignoring the coach’s overwhelming success, popularity, and influence. Richardson in a press conference from the 2002 tells the administration they can just pay him off and take his job then claims that every coach at Arkansas his held to a lesser standard than he is. Just between us university administrators LOVE that approach.

Look Richardson was a trailblazer for African-American coaches and certainly took on a racist environment in the Deep South. Not undermining his achievements in harsh circumstances, he was loved in Arkansas and around the country but he was his own biggest enemy. He continually lashed out at the media and his “detractors". The documentary does little to shed light who or what the opposition was, especially at the end of tenure. Instead the documentary does nothing more than create straw men out to get an embattled coach. Richardson is a combustible individual who was driven by criticism and me against the world attitude. Once he was on top of the world, a champion, well regarded, even adored he didn’t know where to direct that energy. Apparently he still doesn’t. By the way, two of the three coaches who have come in his wake have been African American. That’s either really sneaky racism on the part of the University’s administration or further proof that Nolan played the largest role in his own demise.

Also, watching footage of the '94 Final reminds me that if you're a tall goofy looking white dude, Duke will find you, recruit you, and play you significant minutes. Less reported but still important to note is that some NBA team will draft you. Hey Mavericks, you took Cherokee Parks with the 12th pick in '95 how'd that work out? Someday we'll rank these guys, it's like picking from the Taco Bell Value Menu: Mark Alarie, Danny Ferry, Christian Laettner, Mike Gminski, Cherokee Parks, Kyle Singler, Josh McRoberts, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Shavlik Randolph, and the fighting Plumlees.  

Where was ’95?

The documentary reaches a crescendo with the 1994 championship. However the 1995 team returned to the championship game only to lose to UCLA. The Razorbacks returned its nucleus of players including Corliss Williamson, Scotty Thurman and Corey Beck and the ’95 team proved that the Razorbacks were legit, or 2 Legit 2 Quit. (Please Hammer don’t hurt me) “40 Minutes of Hell” leaps over the ’95 teams straight into the 2002 season. What’s the rush boy, stop down and enjoy some more Corliss Williamson scowling.

Side Note

When former Richardson assistant and current Razorback coach Mike Anderson was at Missouri he implemented the same frenetic pace that the Running Hogs made famous. In his first year Missouri struggled and Anderson was asked about his team’s play and their ability to bring 40 minutes of Hell, Anderson replied “Right now it’s 20 minutes of
hell and 20 minutes of what the hell?” Love that guy.

Posted on March 14, 2012 and filed under Sports.