Patrick, Musselman began as fax friends

By: Bob Holt
Published: Saturday, July 18, 2020
UC Riverside coach David Patrick calls a play during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Nebraska in Lincoln, Neb., Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
UC Riverside coach David Patrick calls a play during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Nebraska in Lincoln, Neb., Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

FAYETTEVILLE — A fax machine in the Saint Mary’s College basketball office 12 years ago started David Patrick’s journey to become the University of Arkansas’ new top assistant coach.

Razorbacks Coach Eric Musselman was between coaching jobs at the time after being fired as head coach of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings.

Musselman was living in the San Francisco Bay Area and working as an NBA radio analyst during the 2007-08 season when he frequently visited Saint Mary’s practices on the campus in Moraga, Calif.

Gaels Coach Randy Bennett and Musselman were friends from their time together at the University of San Diego, where Musselman was a backup guard and Bennett an assistant coach.

Along with stopping by Saint Mary’s practices, Musselman often used the fax machine in the coaches’ office area.

“Muss would come in all the time to fax out plays to coaches around the country to stay involved in the game,” Patrick said. “The fax machine happened to be in a room next to my office.

“So we’d always talk and I’d pick his brain. That’s how we really became close friends.”

That friendship helped Patrick persuade Musselman to join him as an assistant coach at LSU during the 2014-15 season when Johnny Jones was the head coach of the Tigers. Now it has resulted in Musselman hiring Patrick at Arkansas.

Patrick’s addition to the UA staff was announced July 1 after he resigned as head coach at the University of California-Riverside.

Patrick At a Glance

AGE 44 (born Feb. 21, 1976)

FAMILY Wife Cassie, daughters Bailee and Madison.

HOMETOWN Melbourne, Australia

HIGH SCHOOL Baton Rouge Chapel Trafton

COLLEGE PLAYING EXPERIENCE Syracuse 1995-96, Louisiana-Lafayette 1996-2000. Graduated from Louisiana-Lafayette in 2000.

PRO PLAYING CAREER Canberra Cannons (Australia’s National Basketball League) 2000-01; Chester Jets (British Basketball League) 2001-03; Amics del Bàsquet Castelló (Spanish Basketball Federation) 2003-05.

COACHING EXPERIENCE Nicholls State assistant coach 2005-06; Saint Mary’s assistant coach 2006-10; Houston Rockets scout 2010-12; LSU assistant coach 2012-16; TCU assistant coach 2016-18; UC-Riverside head coach 2018-20; Australian National Team assistant coach 2019-present.

The process of deciding to accept Musselman’s job offer, Patrick said, took about 10 days.

“It didn’t happen overnight,” he said. “There were a lot of phone calls.”

Some of the calls to Patrick were from Musselman. Other calls were from Jones, who is now the coach at Texas Southern, and Stetson assistant coach Brendan Suhr, a longtime NBA assistant coach who worked with Patrick at LSU during the 2015-16 season after Musselman left to become the Nevada head coach.

“When I woke up in the morning, I’d think, ‘I can’t leave this situation we have at Riverside because we’re so close to a big breakthrough,’ ” Patrick said. “Then Muss would call me in the morning. Brendan would call me in the afternoon. Johnny would hit me up at night.

“After a few days, I was like, ‘OK, I’ve got to go to Arkansas. They’re telling me too many positives about going.’ I just had to convince myself that I wasn’t taking a backward step, or a lateral step, and I indeed was taking a step up.

“I respect Brendan and Johnny, and they both said I’d be an idiot not to go to Arkansas. That’s what helped convince me.”

Jones said he felt he owed it to Patrick to encourage him to take the job.

“I think Arkansas is the right place for him at this time to continue to move forward in his career,” Jones said. “It’s where he can be the most effective and certainly help out a friend.

“Eric’s getting Arkansas set up to be able to compete not only for conference championships, but national championships, which they’ve done there in the past. David is going to help him do that. I think they’re a great combination.”

Patrick, 44, already was sold on working for Musselman and on his ability to rebuild Arkansas into a powerhouse program.

The Razorbacks went 20-12 last season in Musselman’s debut despite lacking height and depth. Arkansas lost guard Mason Jones, the SEC’s leading scorer last season, but added a top 10 recruiting class.

“You don’t have to sell me on Eric,” Patrick said. “You don’t have to sell me on Arkansas. You know the schools that really support basketball in the SEC when you’ve been in the conference before, and you know the schools where it’s important, but not as important as it is at a place like Arkansas.”

Patrick was born in Bermuda, moved to Australia when he was 10, then moved to Baton Rouge to finish high school when he was 17. He played in college at Syracuse and Louisiana-Lafayette, then professionally in Australia, England and Spain. He has worked in the NBA as a scout for the Houston Rockets. He also served stints as an assistant at Nicholls State and TCU before taking the UC-Riverside job.

“I know a lot of people nationally and internationally, and everyone is like, ‘You’ve got an amazing job at Arkansas,’ ” Patrick said. “I have not had one person say, ‘Why did you do that?’

“The respect that people have for Arkansas basketball is impressive.”

Patrick received a significant raise to leave UC-Riverside and come to Arkansas — from $261,000 to $400,000 annually. He also will earn a $200,000 bonus if he stays at Arkansas for at least two seasons.

The money is nice, Patrick said, but it’s not the reason he’s at Arkansas. He took a pay cut, he said, to go from TCU to UC-Riverside because he thought it was a good career move to become a head coach. He also took a pay cut when he left LSU for TCU.

Being an assistant coach again, Patrick said, is a good move because the job is at Arkansas and working for Musselman.

“I’ve tried to make decisions based on growing as a coach and what’s best for my family,” said Patrick, who is married and has two daughters. “Coming to Arkansas gives me a chance to work with a friend and a mentor in Eric who can help me continue to grow as a coach.

“My goal is to be like Eric one day in terms of being a Power 5 head coach. I just need to position myself, and being at Arkansas helps me do that.”

James Dickey, a Valley Springs native and former Arkansas assistant coach who is a friend of Patrick’s, said there’s no doubt he will be a head coach in a major conference.

“It’s just a matter of time for David, because he’s going to be in a real high-profile situation at Arkansas,” Dickey said. “He’s going to help Eric get that thing going at a very high level.”

Dickey was the University of Houston’s head coach when he got to know Patrick during his time with the Rockets from 2010-12.

“David’s got a magnetic personality that attracts people,” Dickey said. “He relates well to players. He’ll represent the University of Arkansas and Eric in such a positive way.”

Patrick helped Saint Mary’s, LSU and TCU make NCAA Tournament appearances. He was 27-38 in two seasons at UC-Riverside, but the Highlanders were 17-15 last season to match their most victories in 19 seasons as an NCAA Division I program.

“David’s an outstanding coach who’s had a lot of success at different levels, and now he’s been a head coach,” said Dickey, a three-time Southwest Conference coach of the year at Texas Tech. “He understands what needs to be done.

“I also think it’s a great advantage for Arkansas that he and Eric have had a previous relationship, which always makes for great working chemistry.”

Dickey was working to finalize a deal with Patrick as an assistant coach when Patrick accepted Jones’ offer to go to LSU.

“I thought David was coming to Houston, but Johnny came in and he could pay him a lot more money at LSU,” Dickey said. “David handled it the right way. He was very up front about LSU’s interest.

“That’s the reason we’ve remained friends and stayed in contact, because I was so impressed with him.”

Jones said Patrick is the total package as a coach.

“He certainly has been a student of the game.,” Jones said. “He’s a guy that is just relentless in terms of learning.

“Not only is he a really good X’s and O’s coach and very knowledgeable about the game, but he’s a tremendous relationship builder. One of those guys that can really maintain those relationships over a great period of time.”

Musselman said there were a lot of qualified candidates who wanted the assistant coaching job at Arkansas, but that when he talked it over with Razorbacks Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek, they agreed Patrick was the clear No. 1 choice.

“When Coach Musselman approached me about his list of candidates for that position, he said he had one special coach that was a sitting head coach that he had a previous relationship with that he thought was the best person to fill that role,” Yurachek said. “So, him and I worked together to try to develop a contract that we thought would attract coach Patrick to leave a head coaching position that he had been very successful in to come here and be our associate head coach.

“I’ve had some time to spend with coach Patrick as he’s gotten to campus, and I’ve been very impressed with him and just the chemistry that already exists between him and Eric and the rest of the staff.”

Patrick said Musselman called with a job offer after he was hired in April 2019.

“We talked and Muss said, ‘Man, I’d be a fool not to ask you if you’d come with me,’ ” Patrick said. “But it wasn’t a long conversation, because after just one year as a head coach, I still had to figure out if I could run a program.

“I wanted to prove that to myself, more than anyone else.”

Patrick said the proof came last season when UC-Riverside had its first winning season since 2008-09, including a 66-47 victory at Nebraska.

“My first year I was just praying we’d win 10 games,” Patrick said. “I remember thinking, ‘If we can get to 10 wins in year one, that would be big for where the program was at.’

“I was just trying to get the right guys in place and get the culture set. In year two, I thought we made significant strides in the right direction in a short span of time.”

Patrick said UC-Riverside should be even better next season, and that while he knows coming to Arkansas is the best thing for him and his family, it was tough to leave a team on the rise.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Patrick informed his players on a Zoom call that he was leaving for Arkansas.

“It was the first time I’ve had tears in my eyes since my mom’s funeral six years ago,” Patrick said. “Saying goodbye to my players was very emotional. It’s always hard to leave a group, but especially these kids that had taken a chance on me.”

What made leaving a little easier, Patrick said, was his assistant coach, Mike Magpayo, being promoted to head coach.

“It was good to know I was leaving 15 kids with a coach they know and believe in,” Patrick said.

Patrick said he’s eager to begin working with his new players next week.

“We have a pretty good nucleus that you can do some things with,” he said. “Because now the guys returning know what Muss is expecting, and the new guys have got some older guys around them that can talk them through the trials and tribulations you’re going to go through as a college athlete.”

Patrick said that as a young assistant coach at Saint Mary’s, he was eager to talk with Musselman because of his background as an NBA head coach, then the two quickly hit it off.

“Eric wants to be the best he can,” Patrick said. “I think that’s what makes him tick and what’s made him successful.

“It’s kind of what makes me tick, too. We connect. His approach to toughness is the same as mine. His pedigree as a coach and his ability to adapt to the times in terms of basketball strategy, he’s a savant in that area.

“His offense will change week to week or month to month as needed. Not all coaches do that. A lot of coaches do the same things over and over again because that’s all they know.”

Patrick said Musselman brings a professional approach to a college team.

“Eric studies the game and the trends from not only the NBA, but around the world, and so do I,” Patrick said. “His ability to not only watch what other people are doing, but implement it if it fits what he wants to do, is something that I think is unique in the game. It’s why he’s had success quickly as a college head coach.”

Bennett has a 440-182 record at Saint Mary’s. TCU Coach Jamie Dixon, who Patrick worked with for two seasons, has a 406-166 record with Pittsburgh and the Horned Frogs. Jones has a 335-265 record at Memphis, North Texas, LSU and Texas Southern.

“I’ve been fortunate in my career to be around guys that have built winning programs,” Patrick said. “So I think I can help enhance what Muss has started here at Arkansas.”

Jones said he’s not surprised Patrick built a lasting friendship with Musselman because of conversations that began around the fax machine back at Saint Mary’s.

“That tells you a lot about David Patrick,” Jones said. “Because a lot of times when people come through an office, they have an opportunity to meet someone and say hello, but then the relationship doesn’t grow and become lasting.

“David made sure to keep reaching out to Eric and picking his brain. That led to a long-term friendship.”

Which led Patrick to Arkansas.

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