If any Hog fans still held out hope Chris Beard would be hired as the next Arkansas head coach, those flickering hopes were extinguished with Texas Tech’s semifinal win over Michigan State.
Beard has too much of a good thing going to leave Lubbock now. He’ll get a massive pay raise and likely return with another championship-contending team in 2019-2020.
The silver lining in Beard’s pending bonanza is Arkansas can get on with the business of hiring its next basketball coach.
Eric Musselman has been officially announced as the Razorbacks’ next basketball coach. Read below, though, for more of the backstory and the implications of his hire for the program. Here is a piece on the first time he met Razorback players:
“Arkansas is in negotiations with Nevada coach Eric Musselman and, barring a last-minute collapse, he will be the next coach for the Razorbacks,” college basketball insider Jeff Goodman reported today.
ESPN has reported the same thing. “Nevada’s Eric Musselman is in talks with Arkansas to become its next head coach, sources told ESPN,” writer Jeff Borzello Tweeted.
Longtime Razorback insider Mike Irwin followed up by Tweeting these details: “Was told that [Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek] wanted to hire him last Tuesday but was rebuffed by a [UA Board of Trustees] member. Looks like, after failing to secure [Gregg] Marshall, they revisited the Musselman hire and the okay was given.The BOT was active in this search. Depending on your point of view this is good or bad.”
This isn’t the first time Musselman was supposed to be announced as the next Arkansas coach.
Last Tuesday, rumors swirled that Musselman was in Fayetteville interviewing and would be announced as the next Razorback basketball coach that day or the following one. Given that the court at Bud Walton Arena was being prepared for a press conference, it seemed these rumors had legs.
However, intrepid Reno, Nevada-based reporters later confirmed that Eric Musselman had never left town. His wife, Danyelle, texted the Reno Gazette Journal: “He’s here in Reno with no plan to go anywhere.”
Instead, it seems Arkansas leaders went to him. On Tuesday, a plane went from Springdale, Ark., to Iowa City and then to Minneapolis on Monday. And then from Minneapolis to Reno and then Van Nuys, Calif., Nevada Sports Net’s Chris Murray reported.
Now that Chris Beard is out of the running, it appears Arkansas is picking up where it left off with Musselman a few days ago. This would be a very good hire, given Musselman’s passionate shirtlessness, smarts and deep knowledge of the game at the college and pro levels. The main caveat is that, outside of a season at LSU, he has never had to focus on recruiting blue-chip high school talent. I go deeper into Musselman’s prospects as Razorback basketball coach here:
As the impending Eric Musselman hire is a developing story, I’ll continue to post updates. His signing would be the first time Hogs basketball has hired as its head man a former NBA head coach or former NBA assistant. That will elevate the Razorback basketball program’s status in the eyes of many national observers and potential recruits.
Mike Anderson, as nice of a guy as he was, did not appear to have many NBA coach friends. Because Musselman spent so many decades in and around pro basketball, he has scores of them. This will come in handy when getting targeted feedback to help better develop the games of current and future Razorbacks for the pros.
Below is a great interview with NBA insider David Fizdale, whom Musselman originally hired when Musselman was head coach of the Golden State Warriors. Fizdale is now the New York Knicks’ head coach and a former coach of the Memphis Grizzlies.
“He is a basketball genius,” Fizdale said of Musselman. “Offensively, I don’t think I’ve ever been around somebody that is so innovative, understands how to attack match ups, understands how to teach teams to run.”
As seasoned as Musselman is, it will take him some time to understand Razorback fans’ expectations and the history of the program.
Currently, there’s a split between fans and pundits on the status of Razorback basketball. Many younger fans have never experienced anything greater than reaching the SEC championship game (only to be blown out), or a last-second Michael Qualls alley-oop dunk for a regular season win over Kentucky.
Still, the program has massive support and deep pockets. This is why Chris Murray wrote: “No Wolf Pack fan should have any issue with Musselman looking into a job that could pay him $2.5 million annually. Every person would do that, and Musselman has turned down interest in previous openings this offseason. But Arkansas is, at minimum, a mid-tier SEC job worth exploring. It’s one of the 50 best jobs in the nation.”
Older fans, and many coaches, remember the Razorback glory years of the 1970s through 1990s. They know that Bud Walton, at its most full, ranks with Kentucky’s Rupp Arena, Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse and Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium among the game’s most fevered atmospheres.
Those in the know have not forgotten.
As CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander put it:
“Talk to coaches and those in the greater college hoops industry and they’ll tell you that Arkansas has no business not being a top-25 program every single season. It failed that mission under [Mike] Anderson. If it hires the right person for the job, this should be a top-three destination in the SEC with Final Four aspirations.”Via CBS Sports
Nevada Sports Net’s Chris Murray has confirmed the Musselman hire with multiple sources in Reno. “Musselman rescued Nevada from three straight losing seasons after being hired four years ago,” Murray wrote. “He returned the Wolf Pack to the NCAA Tournament in his second season, a run of three straight bids in the national event, including a Sweet 16 run in 2018. In each of the last two seasons, Musselman’s teams have tied the program record with 29 wins, with his team reaching fifth in the AP Top 25 this season.”
So what about Chris Beard and Arkansas?
The college coaching carousel is in full effect.
Forty five college basketball head coaching positions have already or will soon be filled this offseason. But the coach almost every program wanted is still kickin’.
Chris Beard has transformed his scrappy bunch of Texas Tech overachievers into the story of the season, leading them into the title game against Virginia on Monday night. With every heart-pounding March Madness victory Beard racks up, though, Hog fans’ spirits drop a little more. Many would love to see Chris Beard as Arkansas’ next basketball coach, but the chances of that happening now are essentially zilch.
Texas Tech will pay max money to keep their rising superstar coach. Beard currently makes $2.8 million this year on a deal that will increase to $3.3 million by 2023. It’s not inconceivable to imagine Texas Tech boosters doubling that amount — or more. Coaches who take teams deep into the NCAA Tournament help generate full arenas, apparel sales, increased ad rate and increased overall enrollment. All that is worth many times over the extra few millions per year they are paid in salary raises.
Consider the 30-5 Cinderella season Beard had with UALR in 2015-16. He made $230,000 in base salary that year:
After Beard led the Trojans to a first-round NCAA Tournament win over Purdue, Little Rock brass were willing to double his salary to keep him from lighting to greener pastures, according to a source who worked within the UALR athletics department at the time.
In short, in all likelihood Beard will get an astronomical pay raise, while Arkansas should still get an excellent coach in Eric Musselman. Not the hottest name in the game, but a seasoned, savvy veteran who still crackles with the energy of a firebrand.