Hand wringing over the prospect of Eric Musselman leaving for greener pastures just never goes away in these parts.
When Arkansas basketball was firing on all cylinders, chatter about its head coach looking at bigger programs that were either more loaded financially or more historically successful filled the airwaves. Over the course of a couple years, there was talk of Eric Musselman leaving Arkansas for Indiana, or to Arizona and even to Texas of all places.
Now, even with Arkansas looking at the worst season since the John Pelphrey era with this 1-6 start in SEC play and on a three game losing streak, there is still talk of Musselman looking elsewhere. Except this time the potential destinations don’t seem nearly as attractive.
Here we see Pig Trail Nation’s Courtney Mims paying some extra attention to an account broadcasting that, according to a single source, Musselman was “working overtime” on a exit strategy at the end of the season and through an intermediary had already sent inquiries to Minnesota and Arizona State among others.
There are a few things to unpack here.
First of all, Mims isn’t confirming or corroborating the single source in this case. She’s merely noting that the this account appears to be more legit than some others because of the many college basketball coaches among its 27,000 followers.
Also, Minnesota and Arizona State appear to be realistic possibilities given Musselman’s ties to both programs.
Arizona State Basketball Situation
He began his college coaching career at Arizona State, after all, coaching as an assistant under Herb Sendek for two seasons in 2012-14. In nine seasons under Bobby Hurley, the Sun Devils haven’t yet broken though past the first round of the NCAA Tournament. After a 23-13 campaign last year, Arizona State has stumbled to an 11-9 start this year.
From three-point shooting problems, to rebounding issues to poor defenses, their issues will sound awfully familiar to Razorback fans.
Going to Arizona State would be closer to Musselman’s beloved hometown of San Diego, but it’s not exactly the crystal blue waters and beach he loves out there in Tempe. Another realistic Hurley replacement would be St. Mary’s Randy Bennett. At St. Mary’s, Bennett has built an international pipeline that taps into Australia basketball (e.g Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova). Don’t expect the basketball talent from the land down under to slow down anytime soon, as any glance at the loaded teams on new betting sites in Australia will show.
Musselman wouldn’t be the only Razorback to head to Arizona State recently were he to choose to go to the former land of Jalen Graham. The ex football Hogs Jordan Crook and Joey Su’a both transferred to the Sun Devils.
Minnesota Basketball Time
The Golden Gophers were also discussed as a destination for Musselman back in spring 2021 on the heels of his first Elite Eight run with the Hogs. His father had been a head coach at Minnesota, both for the Golden Gophers and Timberwolves.
Eric Musselman, as a 7-year-old, got to attend the first Big Ten game that both his father and Bobby Knight ever coached when Knight’s Hoosiers took on Bill Musselman’s Golden Gophers in January 1972 in in Minneapolis. That night, Minnesota won. Nineteen years later, the younger Musselman spent a season coaching under the elder for the Timberwolves.
Back in 2021, “instead of hiring a proven head coach with local ties — e.g., Craig Smith or Niko Medved — or going all-in on a big fish like Eric Musselman or Brian Dutcher, Minnesota athletics director Mark Coyle took a chance with Ben Johnson with hopes of finally recruiting elite in-state players,” BetMGM’s Andrew Doughty wrote.
It hasn’t gone well.
Minnesota finished 13-17 and 9-22 in Johnson’s first couple seasons. This year it’s at 4-5 in the Big Ten so far.
It does seem like if Musselman were to leave, something in the SoCal area would make the most sense since his mother lives there and has such fond memories of the area. Minnesota would even be farther away from that than Arkansas, and isn’t on par basketball-wise with other top schools.
Mike Irwins Checks on Musselman Rumors
Pig Trail Nation’s Mike Irwin in the last couple weeks did a little digging on some previously surfacing talk that Musselman was interested in going to Louisville to take over the program that somehow produced El Ellis as its best player last season.
“I was talking somebody that knows one of the assistant coaches on the team, and he said, ‘No, he’s not going to Louisville. I think some other school at some point, but not that one,'” Irwin recalled on Hit That Line’s Halftime with Phil Elson, Matt Jones and Matt Travis.
In another part of the interview, Irwin added: “I was told by several people is, ‘No, [going to Louisville] is not a thing.’ But what they did say was, ‘If the Arizona State job opened up or the UCLA job opened up, then you might have to worry about him leaving.'”
The UCLA basketball program has experienced a recent downturn on par with Arkansas’. Under Mick Cronin, the Bruins went to three straight trips to at least the second weekend of the NCAA tournament but this season the team sits at 9-11 overall and 4-5 in the Pac-12.
UCLA Basketball Situation
Cronin would actually make more sense at Louisville because he served as an associate head coach with Rick Pitino there. But the chances of Cronin walking appear lower than that of Musselman if for nothing else than a prohibitive buyout clause.
“Cronin has a rare reciprocal buyout, meaning it would cost him as much to leave UCLA for another job as it would cost UCLA to fire him,” Kevin Sweeney wrote for SI.com. “That number is $20 million through March 31 before dropping to $16 million on April 1. That figure is almost certainly untenable for even a school like Louisville to pay to get Cronin out of his contract, and also why you won’t hear Cronin’s name in hot seat discussions this cycle regardless of how this season goes.”
When it comes to the smoke around Eric Musselman potentially reaching for the escape hatch, there could be some gamesmanship going on here.
That is, even if Musselman’s camp did put out feelers with these programs, that doesn’t mean he really wants to leave. The motive, in that case, could be as simple as creating some kind of leverage for a contract extension heading into an offseason in which Arkansas has lost some of the mojo it had been building up.
Musselman’s current deal, signed in 2021, is for around $4 million a year and originally ran through April 30, 2026. (winning in the NCAA Tournament since has extended it to 2028).
The buyout drops from $2 million to $1 million the day after last game of this season:
Irwin added: “There’s nothing that I’m hearing that he’s mad and he’s out of here because they’re losing or anything like that.”
Sure, like any coach with a struggling team, Eric Musselman is taking some heat. But, for the most part, a lot of fans seem willing to simply write this off as an “off year” if it continues down this path.
At the end of this season, he will have been in Fayetteville for five years. That’s the longest he has stayed in one place since his CBA coaching days in the mid 1990s, so it’s clear he and his family enjoy the area.
“I think what a lot of fans are worried about is when you get on social media and these people start attacking him,” Irwin said on ESPN Arkansas. “I just read a whole list of things where people said, ‘Well, he has to be accountable'” for the team’s struggles and must “answer” for them.
Irwin, in turn, wondered: “What does that really mean – ‘held accountable’?” Do you want him to write a 10-page report on what went wrong and present it to you? Do you want him to have to go before Hunter Yurachek and explain himself? Do you want him to get five licks in the principal’s office?'”
To be sure, Musselman actually leaving would cause a lot of pain on par with corporal punishment for Arkansas basketball fans.
For now, they can only wish he knows as well as they do that their idiot comrades-in-arms will be found in every major program worth its salt, not just in Arkansas.
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