In only his second year at the helm of the Razorbacks, Eric Musselman has already staked his claim to a spot on the Mount Rushmore of Arkansas basketball coaches in the modern era.
In the last couple months, he’s led the Hogs to a tie for the longest SEC winning streak in program history (12 games) and the program’s first Sweet 16 appearance in 25 years.
Hog fans appreciate Eric Musselman for returning the program to the national prominence it regularly enjoyed in the late 20th century. And Musselman appreciates them right back.
That was never more evident than in the aftermath of the Razorbacks’ hard-fought 68-66 win over Texas Tech in the Round of 32 on Sunday night, when Musselman made a point to sprint over to the side of the court, leap onto a table and salute the fans who had temporarily turned Indianapolis’ Hinkle Fieldhouse into Bud Walton North:
WE KEEP DANCING Y’ALL
— SWEET 16 HOGS 🐗 (@RazorbackMBB) March 22, 2021
This is a man, it’s safe to assume, who is clearly in his element.
His pluckiness and fervor are a perfect match for the Hogs’ passionate fanbase, just as Nolan Richardson’s chippiness and molten stares suited Arkansas’ “little brother” status in the SWC and newcomer to the SEC in the 1980s and 1990s.
In less than two years, Musselman is already on the cusp of leading Arkansas to an Elite Eight appearance. All that it must do is beat a No. 15 seed Oral Roberts on Saturday.
Yes, Oral Roberts is the tournament darlings after beating Ohio State and Florida, but Arkansas has the confidence of having already beaten the Golden Eagles this season:
Musselman’s Hogs would then be only a win away from the Final Four. That didn’t seem imaginable back in January when Arkansas lost four of five games.
Another thing that seems unimaginable for Hog fans: This could be their final postseason rodeo with Musselman in charge.
Nothing Musselman has ever done or said indicates he wants to leave Arkansas, and yet that’s exactly what a prominent USA Today sports columnist is now urging him to do.
Paul Myerberg wants Indiana to hire Musselman as its next basketball head coach as soon as this NCAA Tournament is over.
He lays out his case by starting with the normal bit about how Musselman’s college teams have improved year over year in the regular season.
“Musselman’s college teams have improved every season: Nevada won 24 games and the CBI championship in his first year — an achievement given the team he inherited won nine games a year earlier — and then 28 games in each of the next three, including a Sweet 16 berth in 2017 and a No. 9 ranking in the 2018 preseason Ferris Mowers Coaches Poll.”
In his latest op-ed, Myerberg then praises Arkansas’ teams statistics (e.g. seventh nationally in scoring offense, fourth in blocks, ninth in rebounds and seventh in steals) and goes into the praise that Justin Smith, who is having the postseason of his life, has given his coach.
Musselman is “a coach that allows you the freedom, who allows you to play basketball,” he added. “The main thing, honestly, is just confidence. I think the way we prepare and we practice allows all of us as individuals to have confidence.”
Myerberg then makes the closing exhortation that “by leading Arkansas past the Red Raiders, Musselman has already extended his stay in Indiana for another week.”
“The Hoosiers should make it more permanent.”
It seems Myerberg is only be looking at the situation from the Hoosiers’ point of view.
If Myerberg was looking at this situation from another point of view, he may see that Arkansas can essentially deliver anything Indiana can. Yes, Musselman’s underpaid now, but this Sweet 16 appearance should guarantee that beaucoup money is coming soon after the postseason ends.
He may see that Musselman’s got a great thing going in northwest Arkansas, and that he and his family seem like they are enjoying the area. Why start all over in a new place and throw away two years’ worth of momentum in terms of developing younger players and recruiting?
Myerberg, it seems, doesn’t have a lot of good reasons for Musselman leaving Arkansas other than this would make sense from Indiana’s perspective.
Just throw him in with all the other national media members who seem to have it out for the Razorbacks.
That includes Seth Davis, Jay Bilas and Todd Fuhrman, the CBS Sports analyst who called Musselman’s showdown with Texas Tech’s Chris Beard (also a potential Indiana basketball coach candidate) “one of the biggest mismatches we’re going to see in the Round of 32.”
He also said Beard “has to be licking his chops knowing that Eric Musselman will be on the other sidelines.”
Eric Musselman and Danyelle Musselman Fire Back
In his postgame press conference, Musselman said he had caught wind of Fuhrman’s comment.
“I was alerted before the game about somebody on CBS who said something about the coaching matchup, so I was a little shocked we could actually win a close game based on his comments,” Musselman said.
“Whoever that guy is, I’ve never heard of him in my entire life.”
“So his credibility is absolutely zero. But anyway, coaching in a lot of games, I hope that experience helps. The NBA game, when you get to coach 82 games, there’s a lot of close games instead of a college season of 30.”
Musselman didn’t try to sugarcoat Fuhrman’s idiotic analysis:
“Yeah, I took it personal. My son brought it to me whenever the thing went out. I knew right away.”
“So, yeah, I take it personal when someone says something like that.”
— Tye Richardson 🐗 (@TyeSportsRadio) March 22, 2021
Eric Musselman’s wife also shot back:
— Danyelle Musselman (@DanyelleSargent) March 22, 2021
On Monday, Fuhrman had a chance to explain whether he’d learned his lesson or not. His answer will not give you faith in mankind:
As for Danyelle Musselman’s Tweet, something tells me it will age a lot better than Jen Bielema’s infamous #karma Tweet directed at the Wisconsin football program. At the time, Jen and Bret Bielema were the first couple of Arkansas football.
Speaking of college football, that’s Paul Myerberg’s main focus for USA Today. He writes about college basketball for the high-profile games and events like March Madness.
Myerberg knows how to create buzz in either sport.
By urging Indiana to make Musselman a deal he can’t refuse, perhaps he was simply trying to tap into the nation’s hottest coaching search with a rising potential superstar in the profession.
He’s a columnist, after all. He stirs things up.
But can he also do better. If Myerberg is going to urge Musselman to leave the fanbase that now loves him so dearly, he needs to come up with better reasons for quitting on the Arkansas basketball program than “Indiana needs a great coach.”
Then again, perhaps Myerberg didn’t write a column with good reasons for leaving Arkansas because the more he studied the situation, the more he realized there aren’t any.
For more about Eric Musselman and the next Indiana basketball coach: