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UA arrived at Musselman after many miles

By: Wally Hall
Published: Wednesday, April 10, 2019
New Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman waves to fans after landing at Drake Field on Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Fayetteville. Musselman will be formally introduced as the Razorbacks' coach Monday at Bud Walton Arena.
Photo by J.T. Wampler
New Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman waves to fans after landing at Drake Field on Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Fayetteville. Musselman will be formally introduced as the Razorbacks' coach Monday at Bud Walton Arena.

The basketball coaching search at the University of Arkansas seemed crazy from the start, but in the end it was a little more clear.

The lack of information made for a lot of speculation.

Early on, it seemed Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek and assistant AD Jon Fagg were burning more jet fuel than midnight oil. Turned out they were doing both.

Plus the question lingered, how was he going to interview Texas Tech’s Chris Beard after Beard led the Red Raiders to the Final Four? Surely that was the plan since Beard seemed to be a fan favorite — and for good reason, because the man can coach as well as anyone in the country.

It quickly became apparent, for obvious reasons, that Houston’s Kelvin Sampson was the target. This coaching search took on the all-too-familiar feel of chasing the Gus Bus and never quite catching it in football.

Sampson’s Cougars lost in the Sweet 16, and he said everything would be settled quickly.

Houston’s honchos already had said money wasn’t a problem. It wasn’t, and also added in ink to the contract was that his son would be the coach in waiting.

It did not happen quickly, and that didn’t bode well for UA’s search.

Rumors rang out last week that Eric Musselman was on the UA campus. The UA didn’t respond. It was played so secretly that Jeff Long would be proud.

Eventually, Musselman’s wife stopped the rumors by saying he was in Reno.

Suddenly the name Gregg Marshall, head coach at Wichita State, was in play, but apparently he wanted a seven-year rollover contract, meaning if he were fired he would be owed at least $24 million. Long would not have been proud Arkansas doesn’t pay or play that game anymore.

Then Richard Pitino’s name was in the mix. The Minnesota coach was almost fired a year ago, but he made the NCAA Tournament this year and ended up with a two-year extension and raise.

At some point, Yurachek and Fagg landed in Iowa and interviewed someone. It was believed to be Iowa’s Fran McCaffery, but it could have been someone else.

Billy Gillispie’s name came up. Gillispie, who quit Texas Tech in 2012 for undisclosed health reasons, was out of coaching for three years, but he couldn’t stay away from the game and is at Ranger College — a junior college in Ranger, Texas. He has had a kidney transplant and no longer drinks alcohol.

That went nowhere, but someone at CBS told someone who told someone else that Musselman never really had been out of the mix.

Those hoping for Beard had not given up, but as we learned after Musselman was hired, Yurachek had been given a specific amount of money to work with. Yes, that sounds like a smart business decision, and Beard had gotten a new contract last year — six years for $18 million — and he was banking some bonus money for the NCAA Tournament.

Lastly, and probably most importantly, Beard had a $6 million buyout.

Buyouts are dirty words for the the Razorback Foundation. Beard probably wasn’t in the price range because it would have taken more than $18 million to get him, plus the $6 million buyout.

On Sunday, someone at the UA tweeted a picture of the UA athletic building with red smoke coming out of the top — this is what the Vatican does to indicate the naming of a new pope is coming — and someone immediately tweeted that apparently Musselman was the man.

Minutes later, Yurachek made it official by tweeting Musselman had been hired. Monday there was a news conference, then a pep rally to welcome Musselman and his family to Fayetteville.

The hiring process is over, and we’ll know in a few months if it was a good process.

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