When I was hired: Eric Musselman did his homework on Arkansas

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Monday, May 18, 2020
New Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman waves to fans after landing at Drake Field on Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Fayetteville.
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.

FAYETTEVILLE — On April 2, 2019, Danyelle Musselman greeted Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek and the Razorbacks' sport administrator for men’s basketball, Jon Fagg, at the family’s home in Reno, Nev., before heading to the gym.

She dropped off the family dog, Swish, a male Havanese, at daycare. Not to be distracted while working out, Danyelle left her cell phone in her vehicle. When she checked her phone post-workout, she had upward of 20 missed calls and texts.

All of the messages were a variation of, “You didn’t tell me Eric was going to Arkansas!

A report stating Eric Musselman, then the men's basketball coach at Nevada who had won 110 games in four seasons, was in Fayetteville interviewing for the vacant head coaching position at Arkansas had surfaced on social media. It was spreading like wildfire.

When I Was Hired

This is the first in a multi-part series detailing the backstory to head coaches being hired at Arkansas.

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“The day Hunter came out to Reno to visit, it was just awful,” Danyelle Musselman told WholeHogSports. “That’s when everything started up online. At that point, it was totally a rumor. The rumor got shot down pretty quickly.

“Then we didn’t really hear anything for a couple of days.”

Yurachek and Fagg’s in-home meeting with Eric Musselman came a couple of days after Yurachek’s initial call to the Wolf Pack coach, who had received another call from an undisclosed Power 5 program one day before. The face-to-face interview was the result of a fruitful second conversation.

During the second phone call, it was discussed that they could meet at a hotel. Then Eric Musselman offered to gather at his home.

It was settled. After hanging up the phone, Musselman got to work.

“I did research and felt like the Arkansas job was a great job because of the history, I had heard Hunter was a great guy to work for and I knew about the history of Bud Walton Arena,” Eric Musselman said. “Then I just started watching as much tape as I could to get as familiar as I could with the conference.

“I prepared for the interview as best I could by watching tape and studying everything I could about the school.”

Danyelle Musselman took it upon herself to do the bulk of the off-the-court studying of Arkansas and the Northwest Arkansas area. Meanwhile, Eric Musselman dove headfirst into the basketball side of things.

He enlisted the help of Anthony Ruta, now the Razorbacks’ director of basketball operations, his oldest son, Michael, Arkansas’ director of recruiting, and Pat Ackerman, the program’s recruiting coordinator.

Collectively, they put together remarkably detailed interview books for Yurachek and Fagg.

“They had some statistical stuff on the current roster and a plan for what our recruiting cycle would look like, depth charts for Year 1, 2, 3 and 4, what our playbook would look like,” Eric Musselman said. “It had Arkansas personnel and Arkansas depth charts in the playbook.”

Eric Musselman says the beginning of the process was simply getting to know one another. Yurachek then shared his vision for the program, and they discussed Northwest Arkansas, the state and what Yurachek foresaw for other sports on campus and the athletics department as a whole.

They also talked facilities, marketing the basketball program and where Musselman was in his coaching career.

The following day, a Wednesday, the Musselmans flew to the Final Four in Minneapolis. Eric Musselman and Yurachek stayed in touch throughout the week, talking every day. On Saturday, he got the call to phone UA chancellor Joseph Steinmetz.

Later that day, Yurachek called Eric Musselman and offered him the job.

“We did everything we could to switch our tickets to come back early, but we couldn’t leave too early because I had a speaking engagement,” Danyelle Musselman said. “We got back the earliest we could, which I think was like 9 p.m., then we had to tell our daughter we were moving.

“It was the only part that made me sad.”

Mariah Musselman was 9 years old at the time. She began to cry when she learned she would be moving. But neither Eric nor Danyelle will forget the next words out of her mouth: “I’m so happy for you, Dad.”

“Even at that age, she knew it was a big job and a big deal and knew it was what he had dreamed of,” Danyelle Musselman said. “Then we went down and packed until like midnight. The next morning, Hunter was at our house.”

They then flew from Reno to Fayetteville and went straight to Yurachek’s home where the new coach met and spoke with players on Arkansas' current roster. Danyelle Musselman recalls Yurachek’s wife, Jennifer, preparing a lot of food for the gathering.

The Arkansas AD eased the Musselmans’ nerves with a joke from their first interaction April 2.

“We laugh about it now. He’s a huge dog person,” Danyelle Musselman said of Yurachek. “Him and his wife are big dog people and we’re big dog people. I didn’t know that upon meeting him, so I took our little dog and put him in the car in the driveway so he wouldn’t run and jump all over him.

“It wasn’t until later once Eric had gotten the job when Hunter said, ‘I didn’t know if you were some crazy dog abuser because we saw this little dog trapped in the car when we pulled up and we weren’t sure about you guys.’ They were so immediately warm.”

On Monday, April 8, Eric Musselman, donning a grey suit and thin red tie, was introduced as the Razorbacks' men’s basketball coach.

“When you get a phone call and then you wait, and then you get another phone call, it’s stressful, more so on your family than anyone else,” Eric Musselman said as he stood on stage in Bud Walton Arena. “Thank you (to my family) for being patient and believing this was going to happen.”

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