Musselman’s remaining at Arkansas no surprise to longtime Hog fans

Many Razorback fans likely breathed a collective sigh of relief when they saw Hunter Yurachek’s tweet from late Monday night of him and his wife enjoying some champagne with Arkansas head basketball coach Eric Musselman and his wife Danyelle.

The message was clear. The Muss Buss would remain parked at Walton Arena for the foreseeable future. Musselman and Yurachek even filmed a whacky video Tuesday with Hunter getting aboard a bus that Musselman was driving.

I assume they were heading to the bank.

The UA announced today that the deal would be for $20 million over five years. That’s a very nice bump from his original $2.5 million salary for the coach that guided the Razorbacks to the Elite Eight for the first time in a quarter century.

That should put to bed all the bogus reports linking his name to other jobs that we’ve seen over the last month.

Every decent job that came open — save the North Carolina position — had some reporter throwing out Musselman’s name… just because. If the Tar Heels hadn’t traditionally hired from their own coaching tree in the past, Muss might have been linked to it too.

That might have been a pitch he would have been willing to listen to.

By the way, congrats to Hubert Davis for getting the Tar Heels’ position. Unfortunately for him, it’s probably a tougher job now than it has ever been.

Some national onlookers, pundits, and reporters might be surprised that Muss didn’t test the market? Some younger Arkansas fans, too?

However, longterm Hog fans didn’t fall into the trap of just assuming Musselman would look for greener pastures. We know a winning coach can be very happy and extremely well taken care of at Arkansas.

In fact, it’s been decades since a successful coach in one of the major sports has left Arkansas for greener pastures without some extenuating circumstances.

The last two coaches to truly leave Arkansas for greener pastures on their own terms — without being under duress — were football coaches Bowden Wyatt, who returned to his alma mater of Tennessee after leading the Hogs to the 1954 Southwest Conference title, and Jack Mitchell who laterally jumped to Kansas in 1957.

You might be thinking, wait a minute. What about Eddie Sutton, Ken Hatfield, and Houston Nutt? They left on their own, didn’t they?

Did they?

Sutton, Hatfield, and Nutt were not fired by Arkansas athletics director Frank Broyles, who retired from the Razorbacks’ head football coaching position after the 1976 season to focus on being athletic director, but none of them could remain happily in their positions at Arkansas, so they left. Some might view it as them being pushed out rather than them leaving under their own volition.

Public sentiment turned on Nutt so drastically when he and his coaching staff — for better or worse — undermined the 2006 experiment with Gus Malzahn and the Springdale Five. Everything blew up in the faces of all involved, and Nutt had no choice but to move on following a good but not great 2007 season.

Chancellor John White famously released the golden handcuffs from Nutt’s contract so he could make the semi-lateral leap to Ole Miss, but all the chaos ripped the program apart, forcing Broyles’ retirement and basically doing in White, too.

Even in hindsight it’s hard to know if Broyles intentionally drove the highly successful Hatfield away from the program they both loved or not. I don’t think he did. I think he exerted pressure on Hatfield to get him to excel, but the end result accelerated Hatfield departing the program.

After winning back-to-back Southwest Conference titles in 1988 and 1989, Hatfield, who had starred under Broyles as a punt returner and defensive back at the apex of Arkansas’ football success in 1964, ghosted his old coach and the Razorback program in late January of 1990 to take the head coaching job at Clemson just days before the national signing period.

Hatfield had evidently been looking for a way out of the Arkansas job since the tumultuous 1987 season when former Razorback player and assistant Jimmy Johnson’s Miami Hurricanes embarrassed the program, beating down Hatfield’s Hogs, 51-7, in Little Rock.

A few weeks later, the Texas Longhorns rubbed salt in the the wound, upsetting the Razorbacks, 16-14, in Little Rock with a late-game touchdown pass from Bret Stafford to Tony Jones.

Broyles began to apply pressure on Hatfield to hire better assistants, but Hatfield stood by his coaches and eventually took most of them with him to Clemson.

During his final two years at Arkansas, Hatfield, who was well respected in the SEC from his assistant coaching stint at Florida, reportedly had discussions with Alabama and Georgia about their job openings while prepping for back-to-back Cotton Bowl appearances, but the discussions ended when it became clear he would not have been able to take all his assistants to either job.

After forcing Danny Ford out, Clemson was happy to get Hatfield and his assistants at such a late date. Broyles was caught off guard and made a snap hire of Hatfield’s offensive coordinator Jack Crowe, who was in over his head.

In his heart of hearts, I think Hatfield would have liked to have stayed at Arkansas, but the pressure he felt from Broyles didn’t allow it to happen.

When Eddie Sutton left Arkansas for Kentucky in 1985, he made the statement that he would have crawled to Kentucky. That was clearly a stab at Broyles, but folks wondered if he was so happy to be at Kentucky, why did he live the rest of the summer in Fayetteville?

As we learned in the ESPN documentary on his life and struggles, Sutton didn’t really want to leave Arkansas, but still captured in the throes of his alcoholism, he wanted to go through rehab even less than Amy Winehouse.

Broyles was insisting that Sutton undergo an alcohol rehabilitation program if he were to stay at Arkansas. That insistence had Sutton interested in the Auburn job that never came open thanks to coach Sonny Smith’s squad surprisingly winning the 1985 SEC Tournament.

When the Kentucky job came open, it seemed like a perfect fit, but the Wildcats didn’t know the demons Sutton was struggling with.

So, since the late 1950s, no successful head coach in the major sports at Arkansas really wanted to leave the Razorback program because of the job itself.

Arkansas’ key head coaching jobs historically — at least since the mid 1950s — have not been found lacking.

The departures of Nutt, Hatfield, and Sutton had more to do with the emotions, character, and unique struggles of those men and Broyles than they had with the actual job and its pay and perks.

Though history no doubt points to the outstanding accomplishments of Broyles and the overall program he built at Arkansas, I doubt many would say he was an easy man to work for. But then again how many good managers are?

From the outside looking in, Yurachek seems to have a great handle on his job as Arkansas’ athletic director. Certainly he’s had to make some tough decisions, particularly in dealing with the incredible issues that Covid-19 dropped on his desk.

Obviously there are decisions he’s made that are popular and others that are not. Sometimes a decision is popular with some and not with others.

But rewarding Musselman for the success he’s had in his two season with the Razorbacks was a no-brainer. Musselman staying in place at Arkansas seems to be a no-brainer for him, too.

Now I’m hoping Yurachek will have to find a way to pony up better deals for head football coach Sam Pittman and head baseball coach Dave Van Horn. That will only signal even greater success for the Razorbacks in their three revenue sports.