With all now said and done, the University of Arkansas probably couldn’t have made a better hire for its new head basketball coach than Eric Musselman.
No, it’s not the big splash hire that some fans wanted. It did not turn the college basketball world on its head. Nationally, the news was a footnote to a splendid national championship game, which Virginia won, 85-77, over Texas Tech in overtime.
However, Arkansas was never going to be able to hire away a coach that truly would have made a national splash in the first place. I don’t say that to diminish Arkansas’ program in any way, but when a coach is winning at a high level he’s usually fairly happy and not apt to make a lateral move.
A coach is not going to leave one position for another unless he feels there is something he can accomplish with the new suitor that he couldn’t in his current position. A coach is certainly not leaving a top-10 program on the court for a program that has been in rebuilding mode for nearly two decades.
No matter what administrators and fans think about the job Mike Anderson was doing at Arkansas, he is a respected coach within the NCAA ranks. With the improvement the SEC has made in basketball during the last four years, coaches know the Razorback job is challenging.
And as much as we may love Arkansas in general and Northwest Arkansas specifically — it truly is a beautiful and wonderful place to live — it’s not Hawaii.
Also, there is nothing particularly special about Razorback money when compared to Texas Tech or Houston or Wichita State’s. All use the same form of currency and have enough of it to make their coach happy enough to stay put, unless Arkansas just wanted to go overboard.
Maybe Arkansas could have outbid Houston for Kelvin Sampson or extended enough security in a long-term contract along with a golden parachute to interest Wichita State’s Greg Marshall, but would it have been the right move?
If Arkansas maxed out on its budget just to get them on the hill, how would Arkansas reward them if either did take Arkansas to the Final Four or win a national title?
Besides, making a splash hire is more about pride than good business and winning.
Hiring Musselman for $2.5 million a year for five years plus incentives was good business for Arkansas compared to paying $4-$6 million a year that other candidates would have required.
We will have to see about the winning, but I certainly wouldn’t bet against the man who was so enamored by Arkansas’ interest in him that he invested an estimated 20 hours of his life studying Razorback game tape before he was certain he was getting the job.
It was clear Monday from his and UA athletics director Hunter Yurachek’s statements that Musselman saw the Razorback job as a great opportunity for him to accomplish goals and objectives that he likely could not reach at Nevada, where he had won three conference championships, made a Sweet 16 appearance, and won 110 games against 34 losses.
Musselman had squeezed about as much out of the Nevada job as anyone could in four seasons, and it was time for him to move on to a bigger stage. Arkansas offered that for Musselman with its outstanding facilities, grand tradition, zealous fans, and SEC affiliation.
And the $1.5 million bump in pay didn’t hurt.
Now it’s time for Musselman to start squeezing all the success he, his staff, and players can out of the Razorbacks’ program.
Certainly, social media offers challenges to college athletics programs, but the UA won the day with Musselman even before the press conference on Monday by streaming his informal meeting with Hog players Sunday night at Yurachek’s home.
His first pitch to the players sizzled over the plate for a strike when he told them that there was enough talent in the room at that moment for them to be in the NCAA Tournament next year. As much as that probably pleased the players, it may have elated Razorback fans even more.
Musselman’s NBA background came to the fore in the footage when he spoke about detailed and individualized scouting reports that each player would be responsible for knowing for each game.
We also learned that Musselman is a numbers guy, who will use stats to motivate his players. If one of his players is a couple of rebounds away from a double-double, he’s going to let him know it to motivate him to hit the board even harder.
Musselman expounded upon his interest and use of analytics in his press conference where he said he had met with the Oakland As’ executive Billy Beane, the man who championed analytics in Major League Baseball, to see how he could better use statistical information in his coaching.
Musselman even used simple analytics in his press conference to explain why he had the confidence to tell the Razorback players there was enough talent in the room to make the NCAA Tournament next year.
His point was that he was able to guide Nevada into the tournament when the Mountain West only gets one or two bids to the NCAA Tournament each year. The SEC gets three teams in during its worst years and routinely gets five to seven NCAA bids. Musselman is confident enough in his coaching that he can make sure Arkansas is among that number on a yearly basis. Making the tournament consistently is the first step to the Sweet 16 and even better results.
I love that he told the players that if they truly dedicate themselves to working and being coached that he and his staff would develop them to their full potential. I also like that he acknowledged the truth that not every player is willing to make that commitment.
As a Hog fan, I really like that Musselman said that the Razorback logo is known all over the nation. Sometimes I think we do forget that at times. I like hearing that both he and his wife were excited about hearing from Arkansas initially and that they were over the moon when he finally got the job offer.
It was good to learn that Musselman studies coaches of all types and the organization patterns of other sports to glean new ideas he can implement. He studied the organization of the Oakland Raiders football practices to see how he could enhance the time he spends with his players.
Musselman is truly a coaching junkie. All of this shows that he is adaptable as a coach and that he wants to not only remain current but also on the cutting edge of his profession.
One concern some fans had when Musselman’s name was mentioned was how he relied on transfers to fuel his program at Nevada. I have to admit, it concerned me some, too.
However, it seems Musselman analyzed his situation at Nevada and saw that was what he needed to do to win in short fashion. After learning how willing Musselman is to adapt and how much research he uses to coach, I’m guessing he will formulate a recruiting plan unique for his job with the Razorbacks. The state is relatively rich with talent in the upcoming classes. I don’t expect Musselman will ignore it.
Anytime there is a new coach, the transition generally includes some shakeup. We’ll just have to see which players remain on board and which ones — if any — elect to move on.
One advantage for Musselman is that Anderson did not leave a dumpster fire for the new head Hog to put out. Musselman is going to be able to hit the ground running.
Going into the coaching search, my thoughts were that it would be a two- to four-year rebuild whoever Arkansas was able to hire. Maybe it’s just the excitement of having a new coach and hearing his take on the game, but I’m willing to believe Musselman will have the Razorbacks dancing again next March.
I like that it is his stated goal, anyway.