When news first broke that Texas basketball coach Chris Beard had been arrested on a domestic violence charge last month, concerned Arkansas fans immediately took to message boards about the possibility of Eric Musselman leaving to coach the Longhorns.
Now that Beard has officially been fired, those conversations have only become louder and more public, as Musselman is already being mentioned as a potential replacement by national media.
There are certainly plenty of big names being thrown around for the job, but Musselman comes up in those discussions quite frequently.
He is the first name in a list of candidates on the main Sports Illustrated site and he’s No. 3 — and considered a “big swing” — on the Texas site in the SI network (LonghornsCountry.com), plus national sites like 247Sports, CBS Sports and The Athletic have also listed him as a candidate.
Here’s a look at the case for — and against — him leaving Fayetteville to become the next Texas basketball coach.
Why Eric Musselman Should Take the Texas Basketball Job
One of Eric Musselman’s best attributes is what he brings to the table away from the court. He is a master at marketing both the program and its individual players through all forms of media.
That is something Chris Beard was doing and something needed at a place like Texas, which is undoubtedly a football school without an illustrious basketball tradition — making Musselman, according to Sports Illustrated’s Kevin Sweeney, a fit in Austin.
“His relentless energy in marketing his programs would fit well at Texas, where Beard was extremely active in trying to engage the fan base to turn out at the team’s beautiful new arena,” Sweeney wrote.
Eric Bossi of 247Sports echoes that sentiment:
“Musselman isn’t just a tremendous coach and proven program builder, he’s a one-man marketing tsunami,” Bossi wrote. “Beard was very good about promoting the Texas brand. However, Musselman is probably the single best promoter of his program that there is in all of college basketball. His understanding of media — both social and traditional — has been a huge asset for him.”
There is also a belief by some — such as Seth Davis with The Athletic — that Musselman has always had a desire to coach in big cities.
Fayetteville has a population of just 93,949, which is big by Arkansas standards, but nowhere near his hometown of San Diego (1.39 million) or the San Francisco Bay Area he called home for many years (7.76 million). Austin isn’t quite that bit, but its population is approaching 1 million.
“He has everything he could want at Arkansas except one thing — a big city,” Davis wrote. “Musselman has coached in the NBA and spent a lot of time on the West Coast. It was an open secret last year that he would have had high interest in USC if Andy Enfield had left for Maryland. Musselman would definitely be interested in talking to Texas.”
Gary Parrish of CBS Sports isn’t sure that Musselman would want to leave Arkansas for the Texas job, but he believes Davis is on to something when it comes to the big city aspect.
“As my friend and colleague Seth Davis pointed out earlier, where you live often matters to coaches and their families,” Parrish wrote. “Austin is a big and legitimately great American city that could (with all due respect) offer some things a college town in Arkansas cannot.”
From the Longhorns’ perspective, going after Musselman makes a ton of sense. On top of his marketing prowess, he’s guided the Razorbacks to back-to-back Elite Eight appearances, proven to be an excellent recruiter and continued to show he’s an ace with the transfer portal.
Why Eric Musselman Should Stay with Arkansas Basketball
Now in just his fourth year in charge of the Arkansas basketball program, Eric Musselman has resurrected the Razorbacks quicker than even the most optimistic fans had hoped.
He needed only two years to get Arkansas to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, something it hadn’t done since 1996, and that was after the event was canceled his first year on the job. Not only has he now done that two years in a row, but the Razorbacks were the last SEC team standing each time, reaching the Elite Eight before losses to Baylor and Duke.
Injuries to star players Nick Smith Jr. and Trevon Brazile might hinder what Musselman does in Year 4, but prior to them going down, the Razorbacks were viewed as a legitimate threat to make the Final Four. With a No. 13 ranking, they could still make a postseason run.
Arkansas has a national championship in the not-so-distant past — the 1993-94 season was nearly three decades ago, but recent enough to show it’s possible — and there is plenty of fan support, as evidenced by back-to-back season sellouts for a 19,200-seat arena.
“It’s certainly not a guarantee Musselman would leave Fayetteville, where he has built an impressive program at a place well positioned to win (particularly in the era of name, image and likeness),” Sweeney wrote for Sports Illustrated. “As SEC schools go, Arkansas is as close to a “basketball school” as you’ll find outside of Kentucky.”
While he’s a coach Texas should reach out to just to gauge interest, Musselman is still a “longshot,” writes Bossi on 247Sports.
“Whether or not Eric Musselman would have even the slightest desire to leave Arkansas is a fair question,” Bossi wrote. “He’s got the Razorbacks rolling, he has all the resources in the world, and by all accounts, he’s happy with the monster program that he’s building in Fayetteville.”
Then there’s the fact that Texas is undoubtedly a football school. Talk of whether or not “Texas is back” on the gridiron dominates the Longhorn fanbase, even during basketball season. No matter how good the basketball team is, it will almost certainly always play second fiddle to the football team.
Football is still probably king in the Natural State, too, but three decades of national relevance under Eddie Sutton and Nolan Richardson has nourished a strong, healthy fanbase when it comes to hoops.
In a conversation on The Field of 68 podcast, national basketball personalities Rob Dauster and Jeff Goodman discussed that aspect of Musselman’s candidacy at Texas.
Dauster believes he would “crush it” with the Longhorns, but acknowledged that the two programs are “kind of level” in terms of the job, to which Goodman responded, “A lot of people would say Arkansas is a better job.”
What followed was an excellent point by Dauster as to why Musselman should stick with the Razorbacks.
“I don’t know that it’s a better job because I think there’s more expectation (at Arkansas), which means there’s more pressure, which means it’s easier to get fired,” Dauster said. “But I don’t think Musselman is the kind of coach that’s going to get to that point.
“Also, if you’re Muss, why would you leave a program that you have established with a fanbase to go to what is probably going to be a real rebuilding job at a place that is not a basketball coach? To me, Muss needs to be at a school where he can be the center of attention. He needs that.”
It’s also worth noting that Musselman is already well compensated. His $4 million salary at Arkansas isn’t significantly lower than the $5 million Beard was making at Texas, so it’s unlikely that money would be a factor.
More Impact of Texas Firing Chris Beard
Texas — along with Big 12 rival Oklahoma — is set to join the SEC sometime in the next couple of years. While most of the conversations centered around how those schools will impact the conference football schedules, a cool side effect on the hardwood went under the radar: The renewal of the Eric Musselman-Chris Beard rivalry.
The two coaches first met when Beard’s Texas Tech team came away with an overtime victory over Musselman’s Nevada team that the latter said was “as good a regular-season game as I’ve ever been a part of.”
At Arkansas, Musselman got his revenge when the Razorbacks knocked off the Red Raiders in a dramatic game to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 25 years at the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
The rivalry was somewhat rekindled this year when Texas hosted Arkansas for a charity exhibition game. This time, it didn’t go down to the wire — the Longhorns cruised to a 30-point blowout win. Before that matchup, Musselman was very complimentary of Chris Beard.
“Look, I think Coach Beard is as good a coach as any coach in America,” Musselman said. “I love how physical they are. They make it really difficult to score the ball, based on physicality.”
It’s a bummer that the Beard-Musselman rivalry won’t be an annual thing in the SEC. But at the same time, Texas doesn’t seem quite as intimidating without Beard. There’s always a chance the Longhorns will hire another great coach, but there’s no guarantee.
Then there’s the whole Ron Holland situation. For a while, it seemed as though the Razorbacks and Musselman were the favorites to land the five-star prospect, but Beard and the Longhorns got him at the last second.
Without Beard, Holland could get released from his National Letter of Intent and Arkansas would presumably be the favorite once again.
If the Razorbacks were able to steal him away from Texas, Holland would be their third five-star recruit in the 2023 class, joining Layden Blocker and Baye Fall. That would be on the heels of signing three — Nick Smith Jr., Anthony Black and Jordan Walsh — in the 2022 class.
That would put Arkansas into an elite class of blue bloods. The only other teams to sign a trio of five-star recruits in consecutive years over the last two decades? Duke and Kentucky.
Of course, it’s still too early to know exactly how everything plays out, but the firing of Chris Beard definitely seems like it’ll have an impact on Arkansas basketball.
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