UA Response to Musselman Contract Query Strengthens Suspicion of Leverage Play

Eric Musselman, Hunter Yurachek, Arkansas basketball
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

This is getting tiresome enough for me. I can’t imagine what you, dear Arkansas fan, must feel, having to deal with such levels of incompetence and error so often.

For the third time in eight years, I find myself compelled to publish yet another rebuke of the University of Arkansas athletic department’s amazing lack of self-awareness. Whether it’s the actual university’s brass, the big-money donors pulling the strings or the upper levels of the AD’s office, who knows. 

But the fact that Arkansas keeps making so many poor decisions is honestly kind of impressive. You know, in a dear-god-what-now sort of way.

Most recently, it was from the camp of athletic director Hunter Yurachek, a man who has gone from Arkansas fans’ favorite athletic director not named Broyles to nearly persona non grata. His Sam Pittman hire was lauded two years ago, admired last year and then thrown to the dogs after the Razorbacks’ struggles in 2023. 

The pressure was so strong, in fact, Yurachek and Pittman both felt the need to make a splash hire on the football staff, opting to bring Bobby home. Yes, that Bobby, the one of the most embarrassing non-criminal act in college football of the 2000s.

The same thing has happened – to a lesser extent – with Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman. Musselman led the Razorbacks to three straight Sweet 16s, including two Elite Eights, but in 2023-24, they finished with their worst record since John Pelphrey roamed the sidelines. Rumor and discontent ran rampant and Musselman was literally at a loss in a good number of post-game press conferences. 

Things were so ugly in Fayetteville with the basketball team that word spread that Musselman may look for a way out. He was reportedly up for the job in Louisville and has been named a strong candidate for the gig at Southern California

Indeed, national talk show host Doug Gottlieb has even gone so far as to suggest that Musselman is the favorite for the USC basketball job.

That position is undoubtedly tempting for a coach whose ties to SoCal are long and deep. Considering the way some turned on him in a year’s time in the Natural State, would any neutral party blame him for skipping out?

Eric Musselman and Arkansas Basketball

Hunter Yurachek and his staff know the suitors are knocking and regardless of what the kooky segment of the fan base wants – his head – the Hogs AD would prefer to keep a coach only shy of Nolan and Eddie in Arkansas basketball legend. To that end, Yurachek tweeted a video Thursday that suggested Eric Musselman was back onboard (no, literally, onboard) for the Razorbacks. Fans and media took the video, which was captioned only #OneRazorback as tacit agreement between the two persons therein. In other words, it looks like Yurachek saying Musselman will be back with the Hogs in 2024-25.

Musselman very well could be. Might even go so far as to say he probably will be. But, turns out, about an hour after the video hit that grand old Information Superhighway, a UMass basketball podcaster responded saying he was told by an Arkansas source that Musselman had no knowledge the video was going up Thursday. 

According to the source, the video is file footage for a promo the two shot a few years ago regarding the Muss Bus catchphrase. 

Both Musselman’s and Yurachek’s visages in the video suggest the same. It isn’t recently recorded.

Not only does the video reek of desperation, but it comes across to me as dirty pool. Someone in Yurachek’s office has to be smart enough to know the subtext. The video suggests Musselman has signed or will sign an extension to keep him the head coach at Arkansas. Or, at least, that Yurachek is working on it. If Musselman didn’t know the video was going to be published, it’s a weird leverage pull. 

But instead of writing an explainer along the lines of “We are doing everything we can to keep Eric Musselman a Hog!” (Sorry, I’m not on LinkedIn, I can’t fake things like that very well) or some such, the video lingers without context, leaving Twitter – America’s most discerning and sophisticated audience – to come to their own conclusions. Largely that Musselman was going to re-up with the Hogs. But if the coach did not, in fact, know about it, per the report, how the hell is he supposed to take that video?

A Freedom of Information Act request from Best of Arkansas Sports’ Andrew Hutchinson regarding a potential contract extension between Musselman and Arkansas yielded (ahem, never yield) a “no responsive documents” answer from the university Thursday afternoon and again Friday morning

That doesn’t mean that Musselman won’t re-sign with Arkansas. It does mean there is no paper trail. And Muss has been mum basically all month. He has tweeted once since March 6 and even that was related to Isaiah Joe’s dunk in Wednesday’s Oklahoma City Thunder game. A coach whose recruiting power is his communication, especially socially, has not been heard of in weeks in personal channels. Too many smokestacks to claim no fire. 

The Long-Term Question

The short-term question is how things will play out with Muss and the school, obviously. But my question, having been in this profession for 19 years, is how Arkansas continues to be such a joke when it comes to these situations. 

The Bobby Petrino mishap wasn’t Arkansas’ fault, but the blowback then-AD Jeff Long received for his choice to fire the coach was insane. About five years before that, Arkansas botched the Dana Altman hiring in hoops and scrambled straight into the burning dumpster fire that was the John Pelphrey era.

In 2017, the messy, wrongheaded manner of firing Bret Bielema was only bested (worsened?) by the inept coaching search that followed and the inept coach that ultimately succeeded Bielema. The subsequent re-hiring of Petrino was a 60-40 proposition with more preferring it than deriding it, a sign of desperation by both the school’s decision-makers and its demoralized fan base. Hunter Yurachek wasn’t a part of the first of those messes, suggesting more goes on the monied folks than anyone else unless Arkansas’ current AD is just following tradition of his predecessors.

If Eric Musselman leaves before the 2024-25 season, the numbers won’t be 60-40 cheering the decision. They’ll be roughly 80-20 against it, even if the loudest ones are among the 20, and yet again the fans will be left wondering just how they got screwed again – without realizing who’s really at fault.


More on Musselman to USC Speculation:

While many of the rumors surrounding him this offseason were head scratchers, this one actually makes sense – the popular belief for a long time has been that Musselman has often had his eyes set on a return to the west coast as his next move.

What better opportunity than Southern Cal for the man that spent a substantial part of both his childhood and his coaching career in the Golden State. Of course, fan support at USC is nowhere near what it is at Arkansas – the Trojans’ average attendance was just over 6,000. 

But the allure of Los Angeles has pulled in some of the nation’s top talent in recent years, including five stars like Evan Mobley, Isaiah Collier and Bronny James. Despite a loaded roster, the Trojans sputtered to a losing record this season…sound familiar? If Musselman truly does desire a return to the west coast, then this opening would give him a great opportunity to do so – especially given the fact that USC will be swimming in even more cash after switching to the Big Ten. 

Musselman’s showmanship and high-voltage personality, however, isn’t for everyone. USC has rarely if ever had a larger-than-life type of basketball coach in a school that historically hangs its hat on football.

So he may not be the best cultural fit there.

On Friday, Josh Cohen committed to Arkansas basketball. Get the latest on the transfer portal situation here:

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