FAYETTEVILLE -- When Ron Brewer boarded a University of Arkansas jet to fly with new Razorbacks basketball coach Eric Musselman to Springfield, Mass., in early September, it wasn't the first time the two had been around each other.
Brewer first met Musselman 38 years ago during the 1981-82 season.
The late Bill Musselman -- Eric's father -- was coaching the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers and the team's roster included Brewer, who starred at Arkansas for coach Eddie Sutton and was one of the famed "Triplets" along with Sidney Moncrief and Marvin Delph who led the Razorbacks to the 1978 Final Four.
Eric Musselman was in high school when his father coached Brewer.
"I remember when Eric used to run around the office and be at practices in Cleveland," Brewer said. "He reminds me so much of his daddy with the way he's turned out to be a great coach, too."
Eric Musselman invited Brewer and Delph to accompany an Arkansas contingent to Springfield to be in attendance when Moncrief was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
So what did Musselman think about being the Arkansas coach and hanging out with Brewer all these years after they had first met?
"It's crazy," Musselman said. "It shows you just how small the basketball world is and how there's always somebody tied into somebody else you know.
"I think it's unique that when you're in a profession that your dad was, it extends networking and experiences."
Musselman, 54, is preparing for his first season as the Razorbacks' coach after leading Nevada to a 110-34 record the previous four seasons, including three consecutive Mountain West Conference championships and NCAA Tournament appearances, highlighted by a run to the Sweet 16 in 2017.
Arkansas is the 15th stop for Musselman in a career that began with being general manager of the Rapid City (S.D.) Thrillers of the Continental Basketball Association in 1988 before becoming the team's coach the next year. He twice has been an NBA head coach with the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings. He also has coached the Dominican Republic and Venezuela national teams during his offseasons from the professional and college ranks.
Musselman hopes Arkansas will be his final coaching job.
"There's not going to be a better job come along for me than Arkansas," he said. "We're in a great league in the SEC with a lot of resources. There's a winning history and tradition here. The arena's great; the practice facility's great. There's a good recruiting base for basketball.
"An NBA job isn't better than the Arkansas job. This is a great job. Now we've just got to win."
LEARNING FROM DAD
After Musselman graduated in 1987 from the University of San Diego -- where he played as a backup guard for the Toreros -- there never was any doubt he'd be a basketball coach.
Musselman grew up going to his father's practices and games.
Bill Musselman also was a college coach, including at Minnesota where he won a Big Ten championship in 1972 -- the Gophers' first title in 53 years.
"I went to literally every practice and game I could from the time I can remember," Musselman said. "My mom would drop me off at the gym after school, and I'd stay there and watch my dad coach his team until it was time to go home.
"Then I'd turn around and do it all over again the next day."
Musselman recalled going on road trips with his father and the Gophers.
"I can remember a mouse running underneath the bleachers during a shootaround when we played at Northwestern," he said. "I remember Campy Russell playing for Michigan when we went to Crisler Arena. I remember a guy named [Rick] Schmidt who played for Illinois when we played there."
Musselman said his mother, Kris, who lives in San Diego, was hoping he would choose a different career path than his father.
"My mom at first did not want me to get into coaching because she knew it was a tough profession," Musselman said. "We had a lot of conversations about me going to law school. But I never wanted to do anything but coach."
Musselman began breaking down film at an early age.
"When I got up in the morning as I kid, I didn't watch cartoons," Musselman told Ron Higgins of Nola.com in 2014 when he was hired as an LSU assistant coach. "I watched the same game film of my dad's teams that I watched the previous night before I went to bed. I was preparing to be a coach, and I didn't even know it."
When his father took a two-year break from coaching in the late 1970s to work in real estate, Musselman worked as a ball boy for the NBA's San Diego Clippers.
"I can remember my mom saying, 'Why do you want to go be a ball boy when your dad's not coaching? Why not take a break while he's taking a break?'" Musselman said. "But I just loved being around the game. As a ball boy, I vividly remember the guys that tipped. I remember the guys that were rude. I remember the coaches that gave great motivational talks because I had the opposing team's locker room.
"All of the other ball boys wanted the home locker room. I wanted the opposing locker room, because I wanted something new and different every game and to be exposed to different things."
Fans in Arkansas may recall Bill Musselman coaching at South Alabama, where his teams faced the University of Arkansas at Little Rock as members of the Sun Belt Conference. He led the Jaguars to the 1997 NCAA Tournament before returning to the NBA as an assistant coach with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Bill Musselman was still on Portland's staff when he died on May 5, 2000, at age 59 after suffering a stroke.
"He was my best friend and my idol," Eric Musselman told Sports Illustrated last year. "Not a day went by, our entire adult lives, when I didn't talk to him on the phone. Every. Single. Day."
COACHING WITH DAD
The Musselmans coached together in the NBA with the Minnesota Timberwolves during the 1990-91 season when Bill was the head coach and Eric was an assistant. They are the first father and son to both be NBA head coaches.
Washington Wizards Coach Scott Brooks played for the Timberwolves when the Musselmans were together on the bench.
"The only real difference between Bill and Eric is their names," Brooks, who was Eric Musselman's assistant coach with Sacramento, told Sports Illustrated last year.
Eric Musselman was asked at SEC media days about Brooks' comment.
"I think the similarities are competitiveness, schemes and trying to fit your personnel, and our love of the game," Musselman said. "My dad had some teams that were known for having great execution and playing a little bit more physical than the teams I've had.
"I remember sitting on the bench when he was coaching the Timberwolves, and the scores were like 79 to 75. I told my dad one night after a game, 'If I ever become a head coach, I'm never going to play this style because it's really boring to watch.'
"So my mom all the time says my dad's up there looking down saying, 'What are you doing? Your team takes 30 bad shots a game.'"
ON HIS OWN
Earl Boykins, who played 13 seasons in the NBA despite being 5-foot-5, was with Golden State during the 2002-03 season when Musselman coached the Warriors.
"I think the thing that separates Eric from other coaches is his confidence in his ability to coach," said Boykins, an undrafted free agent who played in the CBA before making an NBA roster. "I felt the problems I was having at the time getting into the NBA was finding a coach that was confident enough in himself to allow me to go out and play.
"Eric is that type of coach. If you go out there and perform, he'll allow you to shine.
"When you're 5-5, it's easy for people to tell you, 'No.' It takes a confident person to allow a player of my status to not only play, but when I was with him at Golden State, I was closing games for Eric."
Boykins first met Musselman in 1999 when he got a chance to play for Orlando and Musselman was a Magic assistant coach.
"You could tell then that Eric loved the game of basketball and was very detail-oriented," Boykins said. "He was on players about playing the game the right way, doing the little things.
"Pretty much the same as he is now, except he didn't speak as much because back then he was an assistant. Now he's the head coach."
Musselman was 37 when he was hired by the Warriors for the 2002-03 season and led Golden State to a 38-44 record after the team had gone 21-61 the previous season. He finished second to San Antonio's Gregg Popovich in voting for NBA Coach of the Year.
But when the Warriors were 37-45 the next season, Musselman was fired with Chris Mullin set to replace Garry St. Jean as Golden State's general manager.
"Mullin wanted to hire his own coach," Musselman said. "So I was out. He was the new GM, and that was his right. That's how pro ball works.
"Growing up with my dad and watching him have jobs in the ABA and then the NBA, I knew the deal. It's a business."
Musselman led Sacramento to a 33-49 record as head coach during the 2006-07 season.
"I look back and say, 'I got an opportunity to be a head coach for two NBA franchises,'" Musselman said. "Not too many people get two cracks at it. I did it at a young age.
"Right now I feel like I'm the best coach I've ever been in my life, because of the experiences I've had and who I've worked for."
Musselman said coaching mentors along with his father include Chuck Daly, Doc Rivers, Mike Fratello and Lon Kruger.
"I think anybody that you've touched in the past, hopefully, has a huge impact on you becoming better at whatever it is you do," he said. "I've learned lessons from everyone."
When Musselman was fired by the Kings with three years left on his contract, he decided to take a break from coaching so he could spend more time with his sons -- who lived in Danville, Calif., 25 miles east of San Francisco -- after he and his first wife divorced.
Musselman met his second wife, Danyelle Sargent, while he was doing television and radio work. Sargent, who worked for ESPN, Fox Sports and NFL Network, married Musselman in 2009. Their daughter, Mariah, was born a year later.
During the 2007-08 season, Musselman had a chance to become interim coach at the University of San Francisco. He met with USF Athletic Director Debra Gore-Mann at a coffee shop in San Francisco and was offered the job.
"I said, 'That's great, but what about when the year ends? What's the contract?'" Musselman said. "She said, 'Well, I've talked to enough people about you, and you love basketball. Let's just do it through the year and see how it goes. I said, 'No, that isn't going to work.'"
Gore-Mann ended up hiring Eddie Sutton, the former Razorbacks coach who along with Nolan Richardson -- Sutton's successor at Arkansas -- was back in Barnhill Arena on Oct. 5 as an honorary coach for Musselman's throwback Red-White game.
Musselman returned to coaching in 2010 as head coach of the Reno Bighorns of the NBA Developmental League. He got another NBA D-League job the next season with the Los Angeles Defenders, then became an assistant coach at Arizona State for Herb Sendek in 2012.
"I've had people throughout my whole career say, 'You'd be a great college coach. You should try college,'" Musselman said. "So I decided to give it a shot."
Musselman believes he's the only person who ever was a head coach in the NBA who then became a college assistant coach.
"It was very humbling," Musselman said. "I don't think there's anybody that's been a head coach of an NBA team and thinks, 'Well, my next move is going to be a college assistant.' It just doesn't happen.
"But it was a unique experience for me, and I knew I needed to be a college assistant to learn what I didn't know. I needed to learn how to recruit; I needed to learn all the different NCAA rules."
After two years at Arizona State, Musselman was close to returning to the NBA as an assistant with the Timberwolves, but Danyelle convinced her husband to consider an offer to join LSU coach Johnny Jones' staff.
"I didn't know Johnny, had never met him," Musselman said. "But he called and said, 'Hey, I want to hire you. Will you get on a plane and check out Baton Rouge?'
"My wife said, 'Let's stick with this college thing; go meet Johnny.' I met him and really liked him. I just felt like, 'Let's go to Baton Rouge and see what happens.' "
Musselman helped the Tigers go 22-11 during the 2014-15 season -- including an 81-78 victory over Arkansas in Walton Arena -- and make the NCAA Tournament.
Then Musselman took the Nevada job and quickly built the Wolf Pack into a national power, which drew the attention of Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek when he decided to fire Mike Anderson after eight seasons as the Razorbacks' coach.
NEW HEAD HOG
Arkansas hired Musselman, and he agreed to a five-year contract worth $2.5 million annually. The contract, finalized earlier this fall, includes a $5 million buyout if Musselman were to leave after either of the first two seasons.
"To me, loyalty works both ways," Musselman said. "Arkansas has given me a great opportunity, and I'm completely appreciative.
"I think sometimes coaches take their job for granted. I don't, because I've been fired. I've been out of work. I've coached in gyms in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela where there's no air-conditioning, and there are cockroaches running around on the floor.
"When I walk into [Arkansas' practice facility] every day and see our logo, I'm more than appreciative. When my agent [Jordan Bazant] talked about the buyout thing, I said, 'I don't really care what it is. I'm here until they tell me differently.'"
Arkansas' players said it was tough when Anderson was fired after last season, but they're excited to play for Musselman and the new staff.
"Coach Muss has the most energy in the gym," sophomore guard Isaiah Joe said. "He's all over the place. He's the smallest guy on the court [at 5-7], but he'll beat you anywhere.
"You'll be like, 'Where's Coach Musselman?' And the next thing you know, he's on the other side of the court. He's just real active."
Sophomore guard Desi Sills said Musselman always brings a lot of enthusiasm to practice.
"He wants the best of you at all times," Sills said. "He has us doing a lot of NBA stuff, so that's very different from Coach A.
"It means a lot that he has a lot of NBA experience and he's got a lot of connections. After we get done playing at Arkansas, he's got connections to help us at the next level."
Musselman said he was glad to see Anderson, now the coach at St. John's, return to Walton Arena for the unveiling of Nolan Richardson Court.
Anderson, who played for Richardson at Tulsa and was his assistant coach at Arkansas for 17 seasons, was among about 40 former players, coaches and staff members who joined Richardson on the court for a pregame ceremony.
The coach whom Anderson replaced at St. John's? That was the same Chris Mullin, who as the Warriors' new general manager in 2004 wanted Musselman fired.
It's crazy, as Musselman said, just how small the basketball world is at times.
RICE AT ARKANSAS
WHEN 7 p.m., Tuesday
WHERE Walton Arena, Fayetteville
2018-19 RECORDS Rice 13-19; Arkansas 18-16
Arkansas men’s schedule
All times Central
DATE OPPONENT TIME
Nov. 5 Rice 7 p.m.
Nov. 12 North Texas 7 p.m.
Nov. 16 Montana+ 4 p.m.
Nov. 19 Texas Southern+ 7 p.m.
Nov. 22 South Dakota+ 8 p.m.
Nov. 25 at Georgia Tech 6 p.m.
Nov. 30 N. Kentucky 4 p.m.
Dec. 3 Austin Peay 7 p.m.
Dec. 7 at W. Kentucky 6:30 p.m.
Dec. 14 Tulsa 12:30 p.m.
Dec. 21 Valparaiso# 7 p.m.
Dec. 29 at Indiana TBA
Jan. 4 Texas A&M* 6 p.m.
Jan. 8 at LSU* 8 p.m.
Jan. 11 at Mississippi* 5 p.m.
Jan. 15 Vanderbilt* 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 18 Kentucky* 3 p.m.
Jan. 22 at Mississippi State* 6 p.m.
Jan. 25 TCU^ 3 p.m.
Jan. 29 South Carolina* 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 1 at Alabama* 5 p.m.
Feb. 4 Auburn* 6 p.m.
Feb. 8 at Missouri* 2:30 p.m.
Feb. 11 at Tennessee* 6 p.m.
Feb. 15 Mississippi State* noon
Feb. 18 at Florida* 6 p.m.
Feb. 22 Missouri* noon
Feb. 26 Tennessee* 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 29 at Georgia* 5 p.m.
Mar. 4 LSU* 6 p.m.
Mar. 7 at Texas A&M* 3:30 p.m.
Mar. 11-15 SEC Tournament at Nashville,
+Collegiate Hoops Roadshow
#at North Little Rock
^Big 12/SEC Challenge
Arkansas student assistant coach Khalil Garland (left) and coach Eric Musselman direct players Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019, during practice in the Eddie Sutton Gymnasium inside the Basketball Performance Center in Fayetteville. Eric Musselman will coach his first official game at Arkansas on Tuesday when the Razorbacks open the season against Rice at Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Sports on 11/03/2019
Print Headline: Musselman brings plenty to Arkansas