For years, Eric Musselman has been on a text message chain with buddies who go back to his playing days at the University of San Diego in the mid-1980s. In the last few weeks, they had, apparently, essentially dared him to put a clause into his new contract paying homage to his alma mater.
Musselman, as competitive as they get, took them up on this challenge, as the sports world recently found out.
In the fine print of his new five-year, $20 million contract is a clause that states that no buyout is mandated if Musselman leaves Arkansas to coach San Diego after April 2024. (If he leaves to coach anywhere else in the 2024-25 season, he’d owe $1 million. San Diego, by the way, is a non-football D-1 school that competes in the West Coast Conference with Gonzaga.)
Musselman said his former teammates are “going to be really happy when they see that, because no one thought I would actually put that in there or ask Hunter [Yurachek] to put it in there.”
A smile creeping across his face, he continued, “So there’s a lot of burritos that are owed to me when I go back for a three- or four-day vacation in San Diego.”
Razorback fans need not worry, he added.
“This is kind of a nod to the place I went to school, and I don’t think that the University of San Diego is going to be competing with the Arkansas Razorbacks,” when it comes to where Musselman will coach in the prime of his career.
That clause is all fun and games, sure, but the larger question remains: For how many more years will Musselman coach at Arkansas?
If he falls in love with Fayetteville enough, can he become the Dave Van Horn of basketball? Arkansas’ baseball coach since 2003 is among the most consistently successful head coaches ever employed by the University of Arkansas.
Wess Moore, a longtime sports anchor and now a radio host in Little Rock, sees a few similarities between how the two coaches have begun their Razorback careers.
In 2004, Van Horn, just in his second season, took the Razorbacks all the way to the College World Series — the “Elite Eight” of college baseball. Similarly, Musselman led his group of Razorbacks to the Elite Eight in only his second season in charge.
Granted, there are differences in that Van Horn is an Arkansas graduate who met his wife at the school, while Musselman is from the west coast. Still, Moore asked his Buzz 103.7 FM listeners, “Could Musselman be an Arkansas coach who’s going to be here for 15 years? Do you see that? Do you allow yourself to think that far ahead?”
It’s quite a thought. At 56 years old, Musselman hasn’t coached in any one place for longer than four years since the 1990s.
In the increasingly high-pressure world of college basketball and football, coaches don’t tend to stick with programs as long as they do in baseball, where the money — and pressure — isn’t quite as high. To last as long as 15 years, Musselman will have to avoid long dry spells when it comes to NCAA tournament success. So far, that looks unlikely.
Musselman returns what should be a loaded team in 2022, replete with at least three high-powered incoming transfers.
Musselman will also need to stay content enough with Fayetteville to avoid leaving for other programs. A place like Kentucky or UCLA, for instance, could be a serious threat in coming seasons if those jobs open up. When it comes to sticking with the Razorbacks in future years, a big factor will likely be the relationship between Musselman and Yurahcek.
So far, it’s been great — an exact 180 from the dynamic between former athletic director Frank Broyles and Nolan Richardson, the last Razorback basketball coach to achieve this much success. Richardson lasted 17 seasons at Arkansas before things disintegrated (to put it mildly) at the end.
Van Horn, too, is now in his 18th season.
For Musselman to make it that long in today’s ever-changing coaching climate would be a small miracle. But sometimes folks tire of seeking greener grass and decide to stick with a good thing once they find it.
Stranger things have happened.
Longest tenured Razorback head basketball coaches
1. Glen Rose, 23 seasons (1933-1942; 1952-1966)
2. Nolan Richardson, 17 seasons (1985-2002)
3. Eddie Sutton, 11 seasons (1974-1985)
4. Mike Anderson, 8 seasons (2011-2019)
5. Eugene Lambert, 7 seasons (1942-1949)
Highest winning percentage as Razorback head basketball coach
1. Francis Schmidt, 83.7% (113 wins, 22 losses)
2. Eddie Sutton, 77.6% (260-75)
3. Eric Musselman, 70.3% (45-19)
4. Nolan Richardson, 69.6% (390-170)
5. Charles Bassett, 68.1% (62-29)
In the SEC, Baseball Doubles Up
In SEC men’s basketball, Kentucky’s John Calipari is the only head coach who has been at his current school for more than 10 years.
Indeed, the 14 SEC men’s basketball coaches have been at their current schools for an average tenure of 4.86 years.
Baseball nearly doubles that. The 14 head coaches in SEC baseball have stayed at their schools for an average of 9.36 years.
Dave Van Horn of Arkansas is one of six SEC baseball coaches with stints longer than 10 years.