The Next Arkansas Basketball Coach’s Success Will Boil Down to Checking Off These Tasks

JJ Andrews, Hunter Yurachek, Arkansas basketball
photo credit: Nick Wenger / Craven Whitlow

FAYETTEVILLE — What has seemed inevitable for a few days has finally happened: Eric Musselman has been hired as the next USC basketball coach, the school officially announced Thursday. Now, the page turns to what’s coming around the bend in Fayetteville. To say the upcoming hire of the next Arkansas basketball coach is an important one for Hunter Yurachek would be an understatement.

Now in his seventh year as the Razorbacks’ athletics director, the last time he was tasked with finding a new coach for one of the major sports was in late 2019.

With an opening on the football side, rather than landing a more proven and flashy coach (Lane Kiffin) or even an up-and-comer (Eli Drinkwitz), Yurachek went outside the box and hired a career position coach in Sam Pittman.

The move was not nationally lauded, to say the least, but the Razorbacks were coming off the worst two-year stretch in program history and he likely didn’t have a ton of options.

While it looked like a brilliant decision when Pittman had Arkansas in the top 25 just two years into his tenure, it’s been downhill since then and Yurachek even had to issue a public vote of confidence late in last year’s 4-8 campaign. Heading into 2024, Pittman is very much on the hot seat.

That is on the back burner for Yurachek now, though, as he must find a replacement for Musselman — the most successful Arkansas basketball coach in two decades — after he bolted for USC.

Arkansas Basketball Different than Football

Unlike the football program four years ago, the Arkansas basketball program is once again viewed nationally as one of the best jobs in the country.

It’s not Duke, Kansas, Kentucky or North Carolina, but Eric Musselman proved you can still win big in Fayetteville and that the fan base will support the team when you do — as evidenced by season tickets being sold out for three straight years.

Yes, this past season was a failure, but Musselman took the Razorbacks to back-to-back Elite Eights and then a Sweet 16 after they failed to reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament the previous 23 seasons. He landed multiple top-10 recruiting classes and managed to bring in high-profile transfers.

Assuming the UA’s NIL situation isn’t too much of a barrier, that can continue with the right coach.

While Chad Morris tore the football program down, Musselman elevated the basketball program to a point where Yurachek shouldn’t have to gamble with a first-time head coach like Pittman or even a flash-in-the-pan mid-major head man like Stan Heath.

Challenge for Next Arkansas Basketball Coach

Hiring an experienced coach, such as Chris Beard from Ole Miss or Will Wade from McNeese State, will be important because the next head Hog will have a multitude of things on his plate immediately.

While both of those candidates certainly come with baggage, they are likely equipped to handle the transition to Arkansas because they’ve done it before at other stops.

The Razorbacks were already going to have a massive amount of turnover, even if Eric Musselman returned, because five players exhausted their eligibility and six others had entered the transfer portal. That left just three scholarship players available to return, and that includes Trevon Brazile, who is widely expected to enter the NBA Draft.

Whomever Hunter Yurachek hires will be tasked with trying to convince Tramon Mark and Khalif Battle — the top two scorers on last year’s team — to return as the centerpieces next season. He’ll also have to determine if it’s worth it to try to get Brazile to stick around for another year.

(UPDATE: In the immediate aftermath of Musselman taking the USC basketball job, Battle has entered the transfer portal.)

The Razorbacks also have a pair of highly touted signees in Jalen Shelley and Isaiah Elohim. Would they be willing to still come to Arkansas and play for a different coach, or would they follow Musselman to USC? That’s a definite concern with Elohim, as he goes to Sierra Canyon High School in Los Angeles.

It’s worth wondering if the new coach might try to pull any of the former players back out of the portal, as well — particularly in-state products Davonte Davis and Layden Blocker. Also, what happens with UMass transfer Josh Cohen, who committed to the Razorbacks last week?

Even if all of that unfolds perfectly, which seems unlikely, that’s only nine players and the new coach will have to find at least four more players from the transfer portal. For each aforementioned player who doesn’t return/come to Arkansas, that number increases.

Constructing the 2024-25 Arkansas basketball roster will be a massive headache. It’d help if the new coach is experienced on that front and had enough cachet to attract more talented players — or even bring some with him from his former team.

Long-Term Goal: Building a Fence

One of the biggest keys to Eric Musselman’s early success at Arkansas was his ability to reel in four of the five top-100 recruits from the state in the 2020 class.

Even though KK Robinson ended up being a bust with the Razorbacks (before finally finding success at Little Rock this year), Moses Moody, Jaylin Williams and Davonte Davis were critical pieces on teams that made deep NCAA Tournament runs.

Moody was a one-and-done lottery pick, Williams stayed for two years before getting drafted and Davis remained for four years. Since then, though, the in-state pipelines haven’t produced much.

Derrian Ford transferred after one season in which he didn’t get much playing time. Joseph Pinion played sparingly for two years before hitting the portal. Layden Blocker played more than either of them, but his minutes were wildly inconsistent despite showing some promise. As a  result, he also hit the transfer portal.

In the 2024 class, the Razorbacks offered, but didn’t go too hard after top-100 recruits Annor Boateng from Little Rock Central or Dallas Thomas from Little Rock Parkview. They signed with Missouri and Clemson, respectively.

There’s even more talent coming out of Arkansas in the next couple of years that could provide a strong backbone to the program if the new coach prioritizes in-state recruiting.

Benton’s Terrion Burgess and Springdale’s Isaiah Sealy are top-50 prospects in the 2025 class. The group after that is even more loaded, with Little Rock Christian’s JJ Andrews, Maumelle’s Jacob Lanier and Rogers’ Aidan Chronister being ranked inside the top 40 by various outlets for 2026.

Those are just high school kids, too. There are countless other Arkansas natives who leave the state, shine at mid-major programs and then hit the transfer portal.

“Building a fence” around the state and keeping top players home has long been something thrown out by Arkansas coaches across all sports, but it would be especially big in men’s basketball given the level of talent that comes from the state.

What’s at Stake for Yurachek

Everything laid out above shows just how important of a hire this is for Hunter Yurachek.

On paper, the Arkansas basketball job is an attractive one that should yield a proven head coach. If the 55-year-old botches the hire, especially with all the uproar caused by the video he posted on Twitter and subsequent interview about it, it could have a serious impact on his legacy at Arkansas.

Of course, in that same interview, Yurachek said he didn’t really care about that.

“I’m not in this to create any type of legacy for myself,” Yurachek said on the “1 Star Recruits” podcast. “I’m in this because I had an opportunity 30 years ago to enter a profession where I can have an impact on young men and women and their development as young men and women and as student-athletes.”

Depending on how the hiring process goes and how he handles the football situation this fall, though, he may lose the opportunity to have that impact — at Arkansas, at least.


Read more on the next Arkansas basketball coach here:

YouTube video

YouTube video

More coverage of Arkansas basketball and Eric Musselman from BoAS… 

Facebook Comments