Q&A with Tulsa Head Coach and GM Nolan Richardson
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A member of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, Richardson is the only coach win the National Junior College Tournament (Western Texas, 1980), the National Invitational Tournament (Tulsa, 1981) and the NCAA Tournament (Arkansas, 1994). Having won at every level he has coached, Richardson now takes on a new challenge, coaching women for the first time in his career and looking to add a WNBA title to his impressive list of accolades.
Richardson spent his first five years of coaching at the NCAA level at the University of Tulsa, so taking this opportunity to lead Tulsa's WNBA squad is somewhat of a homecoming. In fact, he was so desired by the investment group behind bringing the WNBA to Tulsa that Richardson was hired prior to the city officially being awarded a franchise.
WNBA.com's Brian Martin spoke with Richardson on Thursday to get his thoughts on this week's announcement, his desire to return to the sidelines, bringing his style of play - known as 40 Minutes of Hell - to the WNBA , and his career coming full circle by returning to Tulsa.
WNBA.com: Hello coach, how are things going?
Nolan: "We havenít lost a game yet (laughs)."
WNBA.com: First, I wanted to get your thoughts on finally having this thing come to fruition. You signed on to join the team prior to everything becoming official. What was is like to have everything finally come through?
Nolan: "It was wonderful. Back in August when they contacted me and started talking about the job, at that time it took me a while to decide whether or not I was going to come out of retirement and go back into coaching since I had been over in Mexico for about a year and a half coaching the Olympic team.
"We didnít have any idea at the time if it was going to be an expansion team or an existing team that might move. So during that period they were still working on it and trying to make sure that all the interiors were on the same page and make sure they can get some premium seats sold. You went through all of that process with them, and when it comes to an end, thatís the thing that took a big relief off of them. Now we have a team, we know what team it is, itís not an expansion team, all of those things you didnít have to worry about anymore. It was very good that it had come to the end at that point."
WNBA.com: You mentioned contemplating whether or not to come out of retirement and take the job, what was it that finally swayed you to decide ĎI want to do thisí?
Nolan: "First of all Iím motivated by doing things that no one has ever done. Iím motivated by the fact that I won in junior college, I was motivated by the three championships that I call a triple crown, and I was motivated by going in to the other side of the game, which would be with the women to see if what I do and what I teach it exists with the women. I believe it does because Iíve always said that coaching was coaching. Not only that, but to have the opportunity to say I added another crown, which would be a WNBA title.
"I like history. When I look back or my grandkids look back they can say that my grandfather started in the seventh grade and this is what he did. To me itís the history you leave behind that your kids, grandkids, or great grandkids can look at and say maybe we have some other people in this family that can do the same thing."
WNBA.com: Speaking of coaching women for the first time, did you reach out to any of your male counterparts that have made the transition to the womenís game and sought out any advice from them?
Nolan: "I talked to several coaches that are male coaches that coach females. I talked a couple of times to Van Chancellor, who I knew from the college days as a male coach who coached women at Ole Miss. I had a chance to visit with him. I visited with Darryl Walker who for a little bit coached the Washington [Wizards] as an interim coach, I know him very personally and got his impressions on what he thought. Then of course I visited with a few of the womenís coaches. Coaching is coaching and I donít try to look for what they think is important more than what I feel is good for what I want to do. I have to go in there and get an idea of what they are saying, but ultimately itís my decision."
WNBA.com: Obviously you are known for your style of play and mentioned at the press conference that this will be 40 Minutes of Hell Part Two. How well do you think your style will translate to the womenís game and what tweaks do you think youíll have to make to it, if any?
Nolan: "If there is change, itís a minor switch, like we canít run an alley-oop play, so we know there will be some changes there. But by the same token it doesnít necessarily mean you have to dunk the basketball to score out of the same sets that you might run. What Iím most encouraged about is that I approach the game from the defensive end to the offensive end and I think most pros and everybody else approaches it from the offensive to defensive end. I am a fast-breaking basketball coach, we run off of everything - make, miss, free throw - it doesnít matter, weíre always on the attack. And weíre always on the attack on defense. I like to have my players get their hands on the ball on defense, I like our players up in your face, I like traps and I like them to come when no one is expecting them. So I have those kinds of things that we have to work on to do and I feel that we are dealing with professionals and these young women are professionals on the highest level. If I can get seventh graders to do some of that in my clinics with girlís camps, I certainly feel that I can get some females who have played college ball and have played professional basketball to do some of the same things."
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WNBA.com: You talked about this being a relocation rather than an expansion team, how much of an advantage is that for you to have an established team coming over so youíre not putting all new pieces together and throwing them out there in the first year?
Nolan: "I think thatís really important. Sometimes when you go into that expansion youíre not going to get the best players off of each of the ball clubs because they will be protected. So to have a team that Ö I mean Iím looking at some of the history and in 10 years they have won three WNBA championships. Even though it seems to me that some of the ladies that are on this ballclub have more age than some of the other teams, they have experience and you just canít buy it. Thatís one of the things that the Detroit Shock team has, they have some very tested individuals and when you put that type of team together and maybe you sprinkle some other players in, youíre getting started in a position where at least you have a nucleus ready to go. The other way youíre trying to find pieces from day one to try to get your team going. Iím very happy and pleased. Either way we wanted a team and I wanted to go to work to help that team. But to have this type of group to come in, itís really a coachís dream."
WNBA.com: As you watched some of this yearís season and playoffs, did you get a chance to see the Shock and what was your impression seeing them on the court? Were you able to scout the teams as you were watching them?
Nolan: "Back when I first came on board, we had no clue if we were getting a team and if we did if it would be an expansion team or an existing team. I didnít have a clue that Detroit was having any kind of problems; I didnít know of any teams that were having problems. I watch womenís basketball anyway, but I got more involved with watching it during the time that I knew there was a possibility that I might be coaching. So just to get an idea of the things they did defensively and offensively, who ran the floor and who didnít from a standpoint of team rather than individuals. I saw the Detroit team play in a couple of those ball games.
"Iíve always been a fan of Katie Smith because sheís been an Olympic player, she was someone that would stick out, and Iíd heard a lot about the Nolan girl because her name was Nolan like mine. Again as it unfolded, still I had no clue about the rest of the ladies on that ballclub. Once it was over and the team moved to Tulsa, now you get a chance to go down their roster and you start thinking about some of the things you saw in some of the other young ladies and you felt like well now I see why they were a very good ballclub,. They had a chance to play in the Finals this year."
WNBA.com: Have you had a chance to reach out to the players yet? Have you had any contact with the players?
Nolan: "No. I havenít had that yet. After the meetings as I talked to the commissioner, almost all of the women are gone to some place overseas. Weíre in the process right now of finding out where they are. Once we get that information, hopefully Iíll be able to email or send them something wishing them luck where they are and looking forward to having them back in the states with the new Tulsa team."
WNBA.com: What steps do you take next? Youíre not going to have your team together for months, but what do you need to do leading up to that time to get yourself prepared and get the rest of the organization prepared for the upcoming season?
Nolan: "The important thing for me now in the general manager and vice president capacity, we have several things to do: we have to get our offices squared away, Iíve got to get my coaching staff squared away, weíve got plans of trying to make sure the players will be accommodated for as far as living quarters, I live 90 miles away right now and I have to start scouting out a place where I will be moving to in the Tulsa area. So there are a quite a few things. Also having a chance to maybe meet or talk to some of the general managers and get their ideas of what is happening with the draft and trades and such. I have to get myself educated on a lot of the other work other than coaching basketball."
WNBA.com: Finally, can you talk about coming back to Tulsa. How gratifying is it to have this opportunity come up where you have the feeling of coming back home and taking this step in your career back where it first started?
Nolan: "That is the greatest part. Sometimes what goes around comes around and itís like Iíve come on a full cycle here back to Tulsa. Iíve always admired the city. In the five years that I lived there, I had a great time and the fans really supported me and the team. One thing I notice about Tulsa fans is they fall in love with their teams and that is what I think will happen with the Shock coming to Tulsa. There will be a love affair. The fans will get a grasp of how WNBA basketball is played and I think they will be excited because they know the style and type of basketball that I play. And for me to go back and bring it back to a place where I began and where I have family living in Tulsa, I mean itís like going back home, so Iím looking forward to having a real good situation here in Tulsa."