Like It Is:

Yurachek flexes to secure his Musselman

By: Wally Hall
Published: Tuesday, April 9, 2019
Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman (foreground) and Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek hold up a jersey during Musselman's official introduction Monday, April 8, 2019, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman (foreground) and Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek hold up a jersey during Musselman's official introduction Monday, April 8, 2019, in Fayetteville.

On this Tuesday, Eric Musselman is on the campus of the University of Arkansas in an official capacity.

The new head coach of the Razorbacks basketball team was thought to have been in Fayetteville last Tuesday, but it was denied that he was on campus, not that it matters anymore.

After a long search and numerous interviews, Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek made the biggest decision of his career — a potential career changer — and decided on Musselman to become the head coach of the Razorbacks. He had led the Nevada Wolf Pack to a 110-34 record and three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.

His most notable achievement at Nevada was a year ago when the Wolf Pack trailed No. 2 seed Cincinnati by 22 points with 11:34 remaining but came back to win 75-73 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to advance to the Sweet 16.

There may be a touch of irony in Musselman ending up as the head Hog. In 2008 — not long after being fired as head coach of the Sacramento Kings — he noted in his blog that Nolan Richardson was coaching the Panamanian team and had coached Mexico. He wrote how he admired Richardson’s passion for the game.

Passionate is the most used word to describe Musselman, often followed by intense.

He becomes the fourth coach since Richardson — and third hired from a mid-major school — to try to restore the Razorbacks to a position of relevance in college basketball.

Mid-major coaches have not fared well in the new SEC. For every Michael White or Kermit Davis there has been a Stan Heath, John Pelphrey, Darrin Horn, Johnny Jones and others who didn’t cut it.

Yet, Musselman did have some success in college regardless of the level. Avery Johnson, who played for Musselman at Golden State, looked like a great hire by Alabama as a former NBA coach and player, but he was fired after four seasons.

It’s obvious Musselman is a tightly wound basketball junkie who has chased his dream through numerous cities and four countries. The light at the end of every tunnel seldom was a train, just another opportunity.

Fans who thought Mike Anderson wasn’t emotional enough on the sidelines are going to absolutely love Musselman, who goes my “Muss.”

He’s even ripped off his shirt after a game.

Don’t expect his teams to ever look gassed at the end of a fiercely contested game. He believes in conditioning, great passing and accurate three-point shooting.

Even though he told his new players they are good enough to make the NCAA Tournament next year — and that was a good strategy — the fans need to be a little more realistic.

Don’t put him on a pedestal yet. Like Eddie Sutton and Richardson, give him a chance to earn it.

Musselman is stepping into what has become one of the best basketball conferences in the country after a slump that began to end when those mid major coaches were fired and guys like Rick Barnes, Bruce Pearl and Ben Howland were hired.

The Razorbacks best player, Daniel Gafford, has declared for the draft.

It will be a transition year for many of the Razorbacks as everything changes and many habits are broken.

On Monday, Musselman was on campus. There was a pep rally and meet-and-greet that was open to the public to help ticket sales. His hiring was announced and even chronicled on Twitter. Parts of it seemed like a House Hunters episode.

It took a while and a lot of folks were interviewed, including Minnesota’s Richard Pitino — who got a two-year extension from his — and Iowa’s Fran McCaffery.

In the end, Yurachek found his guy, who deserves a chance.

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