Louisville Side Ties Musselman to Sutton When It Comes to “Crawling” Northeastward

Eric Musselman, Josh Heird, Arkansas basketball, Louisville basketball
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics / Louisville Athletics

When Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman took the podium after a season-ending loss to South Carolina, his usual fiery energy was replaced with a more somber, defeated tone.

“I’m probably more motivated right now, at this moment, than I ever have been,” Musselman said. “So yeah…I can’t wait to…to work.”

The Head Hog is clearly ready to flush away a disappointing season that saw the Razorbacks finish with their first losing record in 14 years. With the Hogs missing out on all the fun of Selection Sunday and the Big Dance, fans are also moving on to the offseason. The transfer portal opening at the beginning of this week and Musselman’s recruiting reputation – dubbed as “The Importer” by Jon Rothstein – gives folks plenty of reasons for optimism.

Musselman’s postgame comments, however, have been muddied and contradicted by swirling rumors surrounding his future in the last few months. At the beginning of the season, the chances of his leaving the Razorbacks after 2023-24 seemed as remote as finding a hot SEC football scene on casino online cyprus.

But those rumors have bubbled up, making their way into Arkansas sports media circles, and boiled to a head on Friday when Kevin McPherson and Rick Schaeffer got into a heated argument on 103.7 The Buzz’s Drivetime Sports after McPherson suggested that there was a good chance Musselman could leave Arkansas in the offseason. 

While there was some confusion over how high he said those chances actually were, McPherson later clarified on his Twitter account that the odds of Muss’ departure were over 50% — in his words, “a slight lean” toward him not being back at Arkansas.

Next Louisville Basketball Coach: Anatomy of a Rumor

That’s far from a vote of confidence. These rumors date back to January, when Arkansas stumbled out of the gate in conference play and got boat raced at home by Auburn. A few days later, well-connected college hoops insider “TrillyDonovan” posted a cryptic tweet that started an online firestorm.

Clearly in reference to the soon-to-be-open Louisville basketball job, the post included pictures of Eric Musselman, Ole Miss’ Chris Beard, UCLA’s Mick Cronin, and Kansas State’s Jerome Tang. This story, however, appears to be far more credible than your ordinary social media bait. National analysts like ESPN’s Pete Thamel have also listed Musselman as one of the top candidates for the position now that head coach Kenny Payne has officially been fired after a disastrous two-year tenure.

In the midst of a brutal season, it seems like Musselman has been putting out feelers for a potential escape plan – and it wouldn’t be the first time that the 59-year-old has had eyes on his next move. It’s long been rumored that the former Nevada coach and San Diego alum has always had his sights set on a return to the west coast, whenever that opportunity arises. 

A career nomad, Musselman’s five years in Arkansas are the longest he’s ever stayed at a single job – which adds to the anticipation over the possibility of him heading elsewhere. Recent offseasons have featured links between Musselman and Texas, Indiana and more. It’s not just Louisville this year, either. 

Sources have suggested mutual contact between Musselman and Arizona State, where he served as an assistant from 2012-14, and Minnesota, where his late father Bill used to coach. Recent days have brought additional rumors connecting Muss to newly-opened jobs at Washington and Oklahoma State. At this moment, Louisville looks like the most credible possible destination if he were to leave Fayetteville.

The Mutual Appeal of Louisville Basketball

Some might ask why Eric Musselman would even consider jumping ship. His aforementioned nomadic tendencies coupled with historic prestige and large NIL capacity make Louisville basketball an attractive destination no matter who you are. While the state of Kentucky is far off from the west coast, Louisville’s 10 Final Fours and three national championships make it a hard program to turn down. 

Musselman already resurrected a sleeping giant at Arkansas, and he could do it again at Louisville. After an incredibly tough season, he might view now as a good time to move on to his next challenge with a clean slate.

After going 12-52 in the last two seasons, the Cardinals are in need of a major rebuild (just ask El Ellis about that one). Musselman’s transfer portal wizardry and ability to quickly turn over a roster makes him an appealing candidate for the job. Reporters from WDRB, a local TV station in Louisville, mentioned Musselman as an ideal candidate for just that reason.

“When [athletic director] Josh Heird said he wanted a coach who would crawl to Louisville to take the job, I thought of Musselman,” Eric Crawford said. “He’s 60, which is a bit old for what Heird is looking for – but to be honest, the program doesn’t need to be worried about 10 and 20 years down the road. It needs to return to relevance now.”

He’s not the only one from the Louisville basketball side thinking this way. Jody Demling of 247Sports’ Cardinal Authority referenced the same quote from Heird, adding “Sounds like Musselman really wants it.”

Sutton, Musselman and the Bluegrass State

One thing that sticks out from Heird’s statement is the allusion to “crawling” to the job. Here’s the full quote from Louisville AD Josh Heird:

“One of the things I think is more important than anything else is, we’ve got to have somebody who is dying to coach this basketball program. I mean, they will crawl here to coach this program, because that’s how much it means to him.”

That’s a direct reference to the late Eddie Sutton, who led Arkansas to five regular season titles and a Final Four during his 11 seasons in charge. After the 1984-85 season, Sutton famously left for Kentucky, which was what he viewed as a destination job.

“When (Kentucky president Otis Singletary) called me, believe me, I would have crawled all the way to Lexington,” Sutton said after accepting the job with the Wildcats.

Along with Musselman and Nolan Richardson, Sutton is on the “Mount Rushmore” of most successful coaches in Arkansas basketball history. It’s certainly a strange connection to see the same terminology of “crawling” used 40 years later for another Razorback coach with rumored interest in one of the biggest programs of the Bluegrass State. It would be some coincidence to have another Head Hog poached by a blue-blood in the state of Kentucky.

Whether Musselman is willing to crawl to a program in such a disastrous state remains to be seen, but it seems not too likely given that he has repeatedly harped on how former Cardinal El Ellis’ needed to learn how to win this season.

Yurachek’s Dilemma

The rumors surrounding Eric Musselman put Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek in a tough predicament. The Head Hog has brought the program back to life in the last five years with three Sweet 16s and two Elite 8s – milestones the Hogs hadn’t reached since the 1990s under Nolan Richardson.

Yurachek will surely do everything in his power to keep the Muss Bus parked in Fayetteville. For his own job security at the top of the athletic department, he needs basketball to continue its past success – especially with the current state of the football program.

After being connected to jobs like Michigan and Ohio State, Alabama’s Nate Oats and South Carolina’s Lamont Paris both just signed long-term extensions locking up their respective futures. Looking around the SEC, Yurachek might get antsy and be forced to the negotiating table.

Musselman’s buyout is extremely low at just $1 million, which makes him a very affordable option for other schools to poach compared to other candidates like Mick Cronin, who have hefty release clauses of up to $20 million.

The tricky part is that Musselman is already under contract through the 2027-28 season, and has the 12th-highest salary in the country. Coming off a losing season – and with a sub-.500 conference record in three of his five seasons – can Yurachek justify handing out another extension?

Musselman likely negotiated that low buyout on purpose to keep his options open, and that’s exactly what he’s doing right now. But his radio silence on the coaching rumors is beginning to worry Razorback fans, and could have a negative impact on recruiting as the transfer portal opens.

If the Head Hog is indeed playing the leverage game, you have to wonder what more he has to gain that he doesn’t already have. Long-term contract? Check. High salary? Check. Low buyout for flexibility? Check.

It’s not like Musselman is unaware of these rumors, especially given how plugged in and active he is on social media. It’s worth questioning Musselman’s motives as other college coaches dispel coaching rumors. Just look at Oklahoma’s Porter Moser, who batted down similar scuttlebutt linking him to DePaul. 

This obviously remains a fluid situation, and judging by what Musselman has actually said (rather than what he notably has not), his plan appears to be staying at Arkansas and getting back to his winning ways next season. Certainly, his Tuesday Tweet giving props to former Arkansas basketball star Stanley Umude along with the #ProHogs hashtag would support that.

Still, until any confirmation comes out, the coaching carousel will continue to spin at warp speed – and the wild rumors that come with it will keep churning.


Next Louisville Coach Odds

CoachCurrent JobOddsImplied Probability
Scott DrewBaylor+40020%
Mick CroninUCLA+80011.11%
Eric MusselmanArkansas+90010%
Dusty MayFAU+10009.09%
Jerome TangKansas State+12007.8%
Josh SchertzIndiana State+15006.25%
via Bet Kentucky

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