Danyelle Musselman / Courtesy
It’s early still, but all indications are that new Arkansas head basketball coach Eric Musselman’s energy, enthusiasm and passion for the game are a hit with Razorback fans.
Musselman has his team rolling early this season in his first year as a head Hog, and his social media savvy, ability to motivate and connect with players, and propensity to fire up the crowd at Bud Walton Area have been a breath of fresh air for many Hog fans, and have made him a household name already around the state.
To hear Eric tell it, however, he isn’t the person most likely to be stopped in the street for autographs and attention by Hog fans when he is out and about with his wife, Danyelle.
“She’s a much bigger deal than I am,” Musselman told the crowd at a recent Coaches Kick Off event held last month at Farrell’s Lounge in Fayetteville. “She’s the one everyone wants to talk to.”
Like her husband, Danyelle is charismatic, charming, with a larger-than-life personality. She has worked as a broadcaster for ESPN, Fox Sports, Yahoo, the NFL Network, and others, and has been a sideline reporter, a television host, and even an actor.
Lately, she’s been focused on settling into her new life as a Razorback.
Her husband Eric was hired in the spring to lead the Hogs after four years as head coach of Nevada. Danyelle said when the initial call came in from Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek, she and Eric were cautiously optimistic, but undeniably excited.
“We got a phone call at 6:30 or 7 a.m.,” she said. “We woke up, and I can’t lie, it was the last thing we expected. We were really excited and hopeful, but having been through this process before, you don’t want to count your eggs before they hatch.”
Things have been a bit of a whirlwind since then.
Danyelle said she and Eric got the news that he’d been hired while the two were at the Final Four where she was scheduled to speak at a Coaches vs. Cancer luncheon.
“We couldn’t hurry back home because I still had to attend the luncheon, so it was this secret the two of us had,” she said. “After the luncheon, we got on the first flight back to Reno, and we told our daughter about it.”
The next morning, Yurachek and Jon Fagg came to the Musselman house, and the two were whisked away to Fayetteville.
“It all just happened really quickly,” she said.
After his introductory press conference, Eric hit the ground running as head coach, and the couple lived separately for a while while their 10-year-old daughter, Mariah, finished school.
“She was crying and she was so sad to leave her friends, but she said, ‘I’m happy for you, Dad.’ She knew it was a great opportunity,” Danyelle said.
Becoming a Razorback
Even though Danyelle said she didn’t know much about Fayetteville before she got to town, she did have several connections to the state. For one, her late father’s family is from Magnolia, Arkansas.
“He was one of 13 kids, and his entire family were huge Razorback fans, so that was really cool for them when Eric took the job,” she said.
Her acquaintances with ties to the state also had plenty of good things to say as well.
Photo: Courtesy, Danyelle Musselman
“We had a neighbor in Reno that moved to Bentonville, who told us they absolutely love it,” she said. “I had a client that worked for Walmart, and she said, ‘I’m in Fayetteville every six weeks, I’ll tell you everything.’ It was cool because, we are in this little city on the West Coast, and you wouldn’t think there would be any connections, but people couldn’t stop saying good things…And they were right!”
Musselman said she has been impressed with the fan support of the program, and with how welcomed they have been since they arrived in Fayetteville.
She does still have some work to do on her new house as she prepares to invite the coaches and the team over for Thanksgiving next week. She also has some work to do on her wardrobe, she said.
“You know, at Nevada, our rival was UNLV so you could not be caught wearing red, so I didn’t have a single red thing,” she said. ” I’m working on that, though.”
Danyelle said that in recent years, she has taken a step back from her career as a broadcaster, but has been staying plenty busy in the nonprofit world.
“I had been heavily involved in the nonprofit scene in Reno, and I was worried about how I’d rebuild that here,” she said. “But I was here for only three days before I was on stage at an event raising money for cancer research, so I’m glad to be able to jump right into that.”
Danyelle said it’s important to she and Eric to be able to use their platform for positive things while they can.
She is also on the Make-A-Wish Foundation board, and is co-chair of the Coaches vs. Cancer wives initiative.
Life with coach
In her spare time, she enjoys spin classes and cycling with the family, traveling, and watching movies with her husband.
“People that know me laugh because they know that I am in bed relaxing with my husband by like 9-9:15 p.m.,” she said. “That is the best part of my day, like, ‘What are we watching on Netflix tonight.'”
Danyelle said that finding time to spend with Eric during the season is always a challenge.
“It is non-stop,” she said. “So you can ask him, ‘How many times a day does your wife ask you to get off the telephone or the iPad. It’s probably no less than five times a day. But sometimes, you are at dinner and a call comes in and you have to take it. So, it is what it is. But I roll with the punches.”
She also gets to ride with the emotional highs and lows of the season alongside Eric, she said.
“When Eric wins a game, I don’t know what time he comes to bed,” she said. “He comes home, and we’ll talk but eventually, I’ll fall asleep, and he’s up half the night. Then he’ll think of something somebody did wrong, and he’s up at 4 a.m. on his iPad typing notes. It’s awesome, but I can’t lie, it can be tiring.”
Building a brand
His enthusiasm is one of the things that Hog fans love about Eric. Another is his propensity to connect with the fans and students via social media.
Danyelle said that people assume that with her background in media, a lot of Eric’s social media antics are her idea. They do collaborate on ideas, she said, but most of what Eric does with his social media he comes up with on his own.
“I’m like the assistant coach,” she said. “He generally comes up with most stuff, and I’ll kind of help develop it, help him with wording, or give him ideas to spin off.
“But it is amazing to see how it can transform a fanbase. We know how important this is, so the extra time you spend on that is is so worth it. When Bud Walton is getting so loud and everyone is so excited, the fans feel like they have a connection with you because of the social media stuff. And when the fans are rocking, that helps spur victories,” she said.
Eric also has a goofy side on social media, she said, but that wasn’t always the case.
“It’s one of those things where I’m like, ‘Are you having a mid-life crisis,” she laughed. “It’s hilarious now. When I met Eric, he wasn’t coaching, so he did not act like that.
“He has this little part to him that is such a contrast, because he really is a coach, he’s a brilliant coach. But the fact that he can also rip off his shirt and do this silly stuff is actually really cool, and most people that work with him have never worked with anyone who does all that, so seeing these folks get into it and make videos with their family and enjoy their silly side is really great.”
With her background as a sports journalist, we know Danyelle is uniquely qualified to criticize her husband’s performance so far this year.
So, how’s he doing?
“You know what, I’ve been impressed with how hard our guys play,” she said. “I think everyone has been invigorated by it. I didn’t see them play last year, so I don’t have anything to compare it to, but I am proud of how quickly they have bought into Eric’s system, and how willing they are to just, you know, dive on the floor. You see it every game, so that is really cool to see.
Photo: Courtesy, Danyelle Musselman
“On the negative side, we are small,” she said. “It is going to be tough to rebound in the SEC, when you are going up against that level of talent that looks like they are ready to jump straight to the NBA, it is going to be tough. But you know, that size in the pipeline, it’s coming, but this year, we’ve got to rock with what we’ve got.
“But if Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe get hot, we have enough shooters that we are going to have the ability to beat anybody,” she said.