Coach Leaves Kent State For Greener Grass Of Arkansas

By HARRY KING, Associated Press Writer

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) - After a 30-win season and whirlwind ride through the NCAA tournament, Stan Heath was hired Thursday as the successor to Nolan Richardson as the coach at Arkansas.

Heath, who guided Kent State to the final eight of the NCAA tournament, replaces the only coach to lead the Razorbacks to an NCAA basketball title. Richardson was fired one game shy of completing his 17th year at the school.

Heath (pictured, above) called Richardson a pioneer for black basketball coaches.

"I'd like to thank Coach Richardson," said Heath, who is black. "He's opened up barriers. He's a leader."

Arkansas hopes Heath can extend his one year of success at Kent State to a school that won the NCAA title in 1994 and made three Final Fours between 1990 and 1995.

"We have a coach here who can continue the great tradition of Eddie Sutton and Nolan Richardson," athletic director Frank Broyles said.

Heath inherits a team that was 14-15 last season. He said he talked to Richardson before accepting the job.

"I feel like Coach Richardson would want me to be here," Heath said.

Heath was introduced at Bud Walton Arena, with chancellor John White passing out Heath candy bars to open the news conference.

Within a minute of the announcement, Broyles led a crowd in a "Woo-Pig-Sooie" cheer.

Heath promised his team would play with "passion and excitement." But he stressed that his players will have to concentrate on academics as well. None of Arkansas' incoming freshmen class of 1994 graduated within six years, according to the NCAA.

"The emphasis on graduation is going to be essential," Heath said. "They can excel in basketball and they can graduate," he said.

Hours earlier, Heath's resignation at Kent State was announced on the Ohio campus by athletic director Laing Kennedy.

"I love Stan Heath, I love what he stands for," Kennedy said. "I personally will miss him."

Heath was in his first year at Kent State and had a five-year contract. Kennedy felt complimented that Heath was taking the Arkansas job.

"You do not want to have coaches nobody else wants," Kennedy said. "In my opinion, Arkansas is one of the top five jobs in America."

The 10th-seeded Golden Flashes (30-6) fell one victory short of the Final Four, losing to Indiana 81-69 in the South Regional final.

Kennedy said Heath told him Wednesday night he was leaving during an emotional meeting at the athletic director's home.

Heath was among a half-dozen coaches interviewed by the Arkansas search committee. He also traveled to West Virginia to inquire about its vacant job.

"He's one of those hot, young coaches that has made a name for himself," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said from the Final Four in Atlanta. "I know coming in behind Nolan Richardson, he's got some big shoes to fill. Whenever you follow a legend, it's tough."

Arkansas fired Richardson on March 1, four days after he said for a second time he wanted to be bought out, criticized fans and reporters and said he was treated differently because he is black.

Richardson's team was 13-14 when he was dismissed for comments Broyles and White believed hurt the program. The Arkansas system president last week upheld the dismissal.

Richardson said he wanted the university to buy out the last six years of his seven-year, $1.03 million annual contract. His buyout is $500,000 a year for the next six years. Heath's annual base salary at Kent State was $120,000.

Heath was hired at Kent State in 2001 after helping Michigan State win a national title and reach the Final Four during his three years as an assistant.

Heath also was an assistant at Bowling Green, Wayne State, Albion and Hillsdale.

During their tournament run, the Golden Flashes beat Oklahoma State, Alabama and Pittsburgh.

Kennedy said he already has spoken with undisclosed people about replacing Heath.

Kent State's success had special meaning for the Mid-American Conference. The only other time the MAC had a team in an NCAA regional final was in 1964 with Ohio University.

Kent State's 30 wins marked a single-season record for any MAC team, as was the team's 21-game winning streak.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)