The only bad thing about having a coach that re-ignites the heat within in a college sports program is that it’s going to attract the attention of others who would like to once again experience similar success.
It was inevitable that Razorback basketball coach Eric Musselman’s name would be mentioned among targets for other schools who are looking to change their hardwood fortunes. He’s been too successful at Arkansas to not attract some attention.
As we’ve been recently reminded the Razorbacks haven’t been truly relevant on the basketball scene in a quarter century.
Next up for the Razorbacks
Opponent: vs. Colgate
When: 11:45 a.m. Friday, March 19
Where: NCAA Tournament – Indianapolis, Ind.
Current Record: 22-6
While I fondly remember players, teams, and games since, 1996 was the last time the Hogs have made the Sweet 16, 1995 since they’ve played in the Final Four and been ranked in the top 10 until last week when the Hogs’ rose to No. 8, and of course, since 1994 that Corliss, Scotty, and the rest of the gang captured Nolan Richardson and the program’s lone national title.
After the Hogs’ semifinal loss to LSU last Saturday in the SEC Tournament, the Razorbacks dropped to 10th by the Associated Press but are a No. 3 Seed in the NCAA Tournament. It’s the Hogs’ highest seeding since 1995.
The Razorbacks are prepping for Colgate, the Hogs’ opening-round opponent in the NCAA Tournament. The squads clash at 11:45 a.m. Friday on TruTV in Bankers Life Fieldhouse in a first-round South Region matchup.
Last week it was Minnesota — Musselman’s home state — that had the Hogs’ head coach in its crosshairs. This week it’s Indiana — one of the bluest of blue-blood programs in the annals of college basketball — that has its sites on Musselman, among a dozen other coaches, according to reports.
Razorback athletics director Hunter Yurachek has already told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that he has had informal talks with Musselman’s agent, Jordan Bazant, about updating and, without a doubt, improving Musselman’s contract.
It’s not as aggressive of a stance as Alabama took with Nate Oates at Alabama, whose Crimson Tide not only won the SEC regular-season title but also Alabama’s first SEC Tournament title since 1991. Oates got a new contract before the end of the regular season that locks him up fairly tight, unless an NBA team comes calling.
Coincidentally, that 1991 Crimson Tide team featured Robert Horry, Latrell Spreewell, and James “Hollywood” Robinson. They beat the Hogs — which featured Lee Mayberry, Oliver Miller, and Todd Day — in the semifinals before defeating Tennessee for the title.
That Razorback team, which bowed out to Kansas in the regional final after Oliver Miller suffered an injury, ranks as one of the best in school history, in my opinion, just behind Arkansas’ 1978 and 1995 Final Four squads, and the 1994 national title team, of course.
To me the 1991 Hogs were on the level with the 1977 squad featuring The Triplets (Sidney Moncrief, Marvin Delph, and Ron Brewer), the 1979 squad led by Moncrief which battled Indiana State and Larry Bird down to the wire in a regional final, and the Hogs’ 1983 squad featuring Darrell Walker, Alvin Robertson, and Joe Kleine, whom Virginia upset, 53-51, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Sorry for the digression. It doesn’t take much for me to take a stroll down memory lane this time of the year. Just call it one of the symptoms of March Madness.
As for Indiana, this year is particularly convenient for the Hoosiers’ coaching search with all of the NCAA Tournament being played in the Indianapolis area. Indiana’s search committee has a veritable smorgasbord of coaches to scout and possibly interview on the sly.
As for Musselman, there is no doubt Arkansas will do right by him for the success he’s had this season, despite the fact that money is tight with the full effect of Covid-19 bearing down on the program.
However, Musselman will likely have the opportunity to make a decision about where he will continue to ply his trade as a head coach, and where he will continue to raise his family.
It probably doesn’t matter a great deal to Musselman where he coaches. He’s going to immerse himself in the job wherever he is at.
What probably does matter to him is whether he feels he can win at the highest level where he is at. Does he feel that Indiana or anywhere else is a better launching pad for a national title than Arkansas?
With the improvement made since he took the program over, it seems like the sky is the limit for him at Arkansas. Musselman seems to enjoy interactions with Hog fans in person and through the media. He seems really happy, but we don’t really know.
Perhaps more importantly, how does his wife Danyelle feel? Does she like Fayetteville? Does it offer everything they want for their young daughter Mariah? From the outside looking in, it seems that they do enjoy Northwest Arkansas, again, from what we’ve been allowed to see through the media, but who really knows?
As a Razorback fan there’s not a lot to do but gossip, speculate, worry, and hope that this noise doesn’t affect the team as they begin their quest for a national title.
It’s probably good the Hogs are already bubbling in Indianapolis as they prepare for their game with Colgate. Being away from Arkansas at this moment is probably a good thing, although the reach of social media is almost infinite.
Hopefully the Razorbacks, Musselman, and his staff can push the noise aside as they prepare for the Raiders and enjoy the experience of playing in the NCAA Tournament.
Most of the Razorbacks are new to the experience of playing in the Big Dance. There might be some nerves. It’s just basketball, but then again it’s so much more. Every college player dreams of making an impact in March when the entire nation’s eyes turn to the hardwood.
That feeling has to be even greater after last year when the postseason was called off in the middle of the conference tournaments because of the pandemic.
What a celebration this tournament is going to be for the players, coaches, and fans. There really is no event like the NCAA Tournament where we are able to immerse ourselves in a sport we love over the course of three weekends.
Here’s to hoping for a good long run for the Hogs. It’s been so very long since Razorback fans have enjoyed one.
The longer it lasts, the longer we can push away the concerns about whether Musselman will remain the Head Hog or seek what he feels are greener pastures.