Musselman Reflects on John Calipari, The Chicken Man and Yurachek’s Gambit

Musselman Dishes with His Pal, Jim Rome

Hunter Yurachek, John Calipari, Eric Musselman, Arkansas basketball, USC basketball
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics / USC Athletics

The college basketball coaching carousel spins at the speed of light. So fast, in fact, that the chaotic series of events surrounding Eric Musselman’s departure from Arkansas feels like forever ago.

Just two weeks have passed since athletic director Hunter Yurachek tweeted out that fabled Razorback Transit bus skit, but so much has already changed after the unlikely breakup of Musselman and the Razorbacks.

Arkansas already has a swanky new Hall of Fame boyfriend – and this one wears fancy suits and is full of charm and charisma.

(Kentucky, meanwhile, is likely feeling a bit blue after being rejected by its first few choices and being forced to dance with BYU’s Mark Pope.)

Musselman, too, seems ecstatic to be back in his homeland on the west coast for the new challenge of revitalizing the USC program as it moves into the Big Ten for the upcoming season. Indeed, USC basketball has the 12th best odds to win the 2025 national championship as those using online casino bonuses in Arkansas can learn. That smile you see below was an awfully rare sight down the homestretch of this past season.

Just look at that smile. Sometimes, when you love someone, you have to let them go.

Musselman recently went on the Jim Rome Podcast to discuss his new gig at USC and recap how his departure from Arkansas went down, and the former Head Hog provided some interesting insight on the situation.

Right Place, Right Time

Musselman cited the allure of the west coast and the good timing of the move for his family as his main reasons for leaving. While there’s never a perfect time to uproot your family, he said that his daughter Mariah entering high school made it a convenient time for change.

“We loved Fayetteville,” Musselman said. “It was five great years. In life, Jim, opportunities come at certain times. We thought that it was the right time, perfect place. Institution-wise, great place. The brand of USC, we thought that was extremely important. 

“It was not a long dinner table conversation…When you grow up in San Diego, Southern Cal and the USC Trojan brand is about as powerful as there is.”

The move to LA also allowed Musselman to be much closer to his family.

“We just felt like we accomplished a lot and this was an opportunity to come to what we consider home,” Musselman said. “My mom, she never came to a game in Fayetteville. The first day I was on the job at USC, my mom drove up from San Diego and was at the press conference. So a lot of things personally and professionally that aligned.”

Musselman’s Take on John Calipari to Arkansas

While it’s always a little awkward to talk about your ex, it was pretty impossible for Rome to ignore the elephant in the room. The show host dug deeper into the events leading up to Muss’ departure from Arkansas – including Yurachek’s decision to post that video without his knowledge.

“There had been so much conversation or chatter, whatever word you want to use, about some of the other jobs that had opened,” Musselman said. “We talked about it after the fact. I don’t think that [Yurachek] meant anything other than the fact that ‘hey, there’s been chatter but, you know, coach is still our coach’.”

“There’s obviously some truth to what gets talked about, and then there’s a whole other platform that’s really not what’s going on.”

It’s unlikely that we’ll ever really know the truth about what went down, but it appears that both parties are happy now – especially after Yurachek landed the ultimate big fish by bringing John Calipari to Arkansas – and that’s really all that matters.

Musselman stated in his USC press conference that Arkansas would be fine going forward, as they had won plenty of games before he came to Fayetteville and will win plenty more of them after his departure. That clearly rang true when the Razorback coaching search ended with a bang.

“Coach Calipari is going to Fayetteville,” Musselman said. “That shows you what a great job the University of Arkansas is…It’s a great fit for Arkansas. I mean, the national publicity that Coach Calipari will generate, I don’t know how you can put a figure on the value to the University that he’ll create.”

Musselman and Calipari have known each other since the former was an assistant with the Memphis Grizzlies while the latter coached the Memphis Tigers. Musselman attended a lot of the late-night dinner events led by Calipari and Mike Fratello, then the Grizzles’ head coach.

The two also spent time together while coaching international teams in 2011 and 2012 at FIBA tournaments.

“I was coaching the Dominican Republic team, then [Calipari] ended up coaching it and I went and coached the Venezuelan team,” Musselman said in 2019 according to Arkansas basketball reporter Bob Holt. “We got to be together a lot because in those competitions you stay in the same hotel, you eat in the same area.”

Connections matter. That comes through loud and clear in Musselman’s recounting of the now-famous connection between Calipari and the billionaire “chicken man” John H. Tyson that brought Coach Cal to Fayetteville.

“When Kentucky came in to play Arkansas, [Tyson] would go to dinner with Coach Calipari, and that’s been going on for probably more years than I was even at Arkansas. So Coach Cal is walking into a situation where he’s really close and has a great friendship with a big booster…I think it’s great for Coach Cal and it’s great for the University of Arkansas, as well.”

Conference Realignment Adds to First-Year Challenges

Musselman said that in addition to the usual challenges of building an initial roster at a new job mostly from scratch, USC’s move to the Big Ten conference presents a unique challenge for “The Importer” in his first year in LA.

“We have a lot of work to do in this portal. I’m super, super motivated. And then I also know what I don’t know. I need to start watching Big Ten games. I knew the SEC inside and out, I knew what was coming…I have no idea in the Big Ten, and I got a lot of work to do to try to catch up.”

The realignment craze in college athletics has mostly been driven by the financial motives of rich executives, but it presents some pretty obvious scheduling impacts on coaches and players. With the Big Ten merging east coast schools such as Penn State and Rutgers with west coast programs like USC, it will certainly be interesting for Musselman’s Trojans to have to fly from California to New Jersey on a weeknight for a road game come conference play.

The roster-building is another challenge in itself, but it’s one that Musselman is familiar with. Muss is bringing two east coast transfers across the country with him to USC in Penn sharpshooter Clark Slajchert and UMASS big man Josh Cohen, who was committed to Arkansas for about five seconds. But the Trojans’ roster still has some big missing pieces.

“My wife and daughter, they came to the press conference which was towards the end of this week on Friday,” Musselman said. “We looked at places in Manhattan Beach on Saturday, and then they left on Sunday and I told them ‘I’ll see you in two months, as soon as we have a roster put together we’ll get back as a family’.”

Calipari, too, will have quite the challenge on his hands in Fayetteville working with a completely blank canvas. His quip at the opening press conference about the cupboard being bare made the rounds on social media.

Luckily, the new Head Hog will be armed with an NIL war chest powered by processed foods that will allow him to stock the roster up with plenty of talent in the coming days and weeks. In fact, good news might be coming very soon on that front…

See more on likely incoming new Razorbacks here:

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