Usually, I’m not this blunt. But here goes:
Wheeling University’s new head basketball coach is a great story.
Also, one way or another, the story of Chris Richardson touches most of West Virginia.
He’s from Charleston, where he also served as an assistant for the University of Charleston. He was an assistant at Fairmont State University. He was an intern for Buckhannon native Chris Wallace, the former Boston Celtics and Memphis Grizzlies general manager.
His grandfather was Cecil H. Underwood, West Virginia’s youngest and oldest governor ever.
Oh, and he’s a graduate of WVU who did writing for the Blue Gold News, where he struck up a strong relationship with Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins.
Intrigued? Understandable, because Richardson is a hell of a story. One that touches many parts of the Mountain State. One that is, well, touching.
See, Chris Richardson is a perfect of example of what vision and hard work can become. He’s worked at Arkansas Tech. He’s worked at Central Missouri.
Yet let’s go back before that. Let’s go back to when Richardson was in Morgantown working for the Blue Gold News.
“I was one of the 15 people who every day had a microphone in [Huggins’] face,” Richardson said. “Well, one day I emailed his secretary at the end of the season. I said, ‘Hey, I’m reporter, but I’d like to see him not for a story. I’m trying to get into coaching.’
“She told me what times he went into the office. I just went to the Coliseum one day and waited. He showed up and we talked a couple of hours.
“I remember he said, ‘Hey, it’s always going to be about the players. That’s the first thing you need to know. When you’re recruiting, it has to be about the players. It has to be a good fit.’
“From that point on, he’s treated me awesomely. He treated me great before, but I just didn’t have that type of relationship.”
Richardson praised Huggins.
“He’s always going to be 100 percent straight up with you,” Richardson said. “The relationship and influence he’s had on me has been nothing but positive. He really wants to see people from West Virginia do well in coaching.”
And, yes, Wheeling Cardinals fans, you might see recruiting benefits from the friendship.
“Yeah, and not just Coach Huggins, but Coach [Ronnie] Everhart, Coach [Larry] Harrison and Coach [Erik] Martin,” Richardson said. “Those guys have all been awesome to me. Everyone talks about WVU being a family. My experience is that’s 100 percent true. Those guys really look out for each other and people they consider close to them.”
Keep in mind the image of Richardson sitting outside Huggins’ office, waiting, hoping for counsel. He could have been shot down. But Richardson went. Ditto his meeting with Wallace.
“What was cool with Chris is a dinner at Muriale’s [in Fairmont] turned into a 13-year friendship and career in basketball,” Richardson said. “I also met him while working at the Blue and Gold News. He was in Morgantown to scout. He asked [Blue and Gold News owner Greg] Hunter to dinner and Greg said he had way too much to do that night, but that his buddy, me, was free and, as a college student, would always take a free meal.”
“Well, at the end of the night, I laid my cards on the table and said, ‘This is what I want to do.’ “
Wallace at the time was with the Celtics, Richardson’s favorite NBA team. The thought was an internship there was in the offing. But then Wallace took over as the Memphis Grizzlies’ GM on the suggestion of Jerry West.
Richardson thought he’d caught a bad break – until his phone rang.
“It was Chris. He said, ‘Sorry I haven’t been in touch and I’m sorry the internship didn’t work out this summer, but why don’t you come to Memphis next summer?’” Richardson said. “He said I’d have stuff to do during the day, helping with media relations, helping with workouts and keeping track of some things, but I could stay at his house and, at night, work on scouting and evaluations. It ended up being a great peek into what it takes. The work isn’t done when you leave the office. It just shifts gears.”
Richardson has shifted gears whenever and whenever necessary to reach Wheeling University. He believes the school and basketball program can and will grow under president Ginny Favede.
“As we moved along through the hiring process, I got to see the leadership of the president and her vision,” Richardson said. “Athletics is a very big piece of it. I think it’s a great time to be part of it and I’m excited.”
So, what kind of style will Cardinal fans see from Richardson teams?
“Defensively, in a league that tries to speed you up and trap you, we’ll be a team that is going to be tough to play in the halfcourt,” Richardson said. “We want to keep teams out of the paint and drive their efficiency down regarding their shot selection. If our guys can buy into that, I think we have a chance to be good.”
“The concept offensively, with a lot of 5-out, is similar to what Coach Huggins and his dad have always been known for,” Richardson said. “It won’t look exactly the same because we don’t have the pieces he has. But the 5-out concept is a big thing with Coach Huggins.”
Mostly, though, Wheeling University fans should expect hard-working teams from Richardson. He’s learned from Huggins and his other mentors, like Jim Boone, Tim Murphy, Jerrod Calhoun, Brett Vincent and Mark Downey. Hard work, he’s found, is the way to go.
“For me to work my way to this position, there really wasn’t any other choice,” Richardson said. “I wasn’t going to get a job because of my pedigree. I had to prove myself along the way.”
“Don Meyer once said, ‘You can’t expect a young man to follow your words and not your example.’ My strength is my work ethic.”
Which should touch everyone in this blue-collar state of ours.
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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.