California Dreaming? Arkansas’ Musselman reportedly interviewing for USC job

Arkansas coach Eric Musselman watches the second half of the Razorbacks’ 90-85 overtime win over Vanderbilt in the first round of the 2024 SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. (Hank Layton/NWA Democrat-Gazette)
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman watches the second half of the Razorbacks’ 90-85 overtime win over Vanderbilt in the first round of the 2024 SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. (Hank Layton/NWA Democrat-Gazette)

FAYETTEVILLE — Could Eric Musselman be headed back to California after five seasons as the University of Arkansas men’s basketball coach?

The website WeAreSC.com — the Southern Cal affiliate for the national sports site On3.com — reported Tuesday that Musselman will interview for the Trojans’ vacant coaching job today.

Musselman was born in Ashland, Ohio, and has held 15 coaching jobs in nine states, but he has strong ties to California.

Musselman graduated from the University of San Diego, where he was a backup point guard from 1984-87, and has had three professional head coaching jobs in California with the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings in the NBA and the Los Angeles D-Fenders of the G League.

The USC job opened earlier this week when Andy Enfield was hired as SMU’s coach after 11 seasons leading the Trojans.

Musselman, 59, would owe Arkansas a $1 million buyout if he leaves for another job. His annual salary at Arkansas is $4.2 million, which ranks 12th nationally and sixth among SEC coaches according to USA Today’s database.

Enfield’s salary at USC was $3.8 million, which ranked 21st nationally according to USA Today.

Musselman has a 111-59 record with the Razorbacks, including 47-42 in SEC play, and led them to NCAA Tournament Elite Eight appearances in 2021 and 2022 and the Sweet 16 in 2023.

The NCAA Tournament run ended for Arkansas this season when the Razorbacks finished 16-17 overall and 6-12 in the SEC.

It was the first time in Musselman’s nine seasons as a college head coach, including four at Nevada, that his teams finished with a losing record. All of his previous teams had won at least 20 games.

Arkansas had been 0-10 against NCAA Tournament No. 1 seeds before Musselman arrived. He led the Razorbacks to two victories over No. 1 seeds, beating Gonzaga in 2022 and Kansas in 2023.

Musselman’s overall college record is 221-93, including 110-34 at Nevada with three NCAA Tournament appearances.

Neither Musselman nor Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek replied to messages seeking comment on Musselman’s status with the Razorbacks, but his name has been mentioned for various openings, including Louisville, which hired Pat Kelsey from the College of Charleston to replace Kenny Payne.

Yurachek posted a video on social media last Thursday that seemed to indicate Musselman would be staying at Arkansas.

The video shows Yurachek getting on a bus and sitting down and Musselman in the driver’s seat looking back and yelling, “Buckle up!”

Yurachek replies, “Wait a minute. You’re still here?”

Yurachek said in an interview with 1 Star Recruits Podcast this week that the video he posted “was not something that was coordinated or a collaborated effort between myself and Coach Musselman.”

Yurachek said it was an edited version of a video recorded a few years ago.

“That video was probably 30 or 40 seconds in length, and we edited that down,” Yurachek said. “I had our communications staff edit that down.

“Coach Musselman, much to his success, has been rumored for multiple jobs that have been open here in this offseason, and he’s still the basketball coach as I sit here today and record this podcast at the University of Arkansas.

“He has been well taken care of in his past contracts where he’s had a couple of extensions in the past few years at six-figure increases. There’s not a new contract in place for him this year, but that video was just trying to dispel some of the rumors that, ‘Hey, he’s still our basketball coach.’

“Now, this may change tomorrow. You’ll have to ask Coach Musselman that, but we very much want him to be an Arkansas Razorback. We feel like where his contract currently sits, he’s compensated in the top 12 to 15 coaches in the country. He’s earned that compensation and done a great job.

“That video was nothing more than that. The athletic director tried to have a little bit of fun with some fanbases and naysayers saying, ‘Hey, Coach Musselman's leaving.’ Well, he may be leaving, but right now he’s still here and he’s still our basketball coach and he’s still driving the bus.”

Musselman’s five seasons at Arkansas are the longest consecutively at any of his coaching stops. He also coached the Rapid City (S.D.) Thrillers of the CBA for five seasons, but after his first season in 1989-90, he became an assistant with the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves. He then returned to Rapid City to coach the Thrillers four more seasons before the team moved to West Palm Beach, Fla., and was renamed the Florida Beach Dogs. He coached the Beach Dogs two seasons.

Whoever takes the USC job will lead the Trojans into the Big Ten, which they’re joining for the 2024-25 season after the collapse of the Pac-12.

USC never has played in a Final Four and has advanced to the Elite Eight four times, most recently in 2001 and 2021.

The Trojans, like the Razorbacks, had a disappointing season. They finished 15-18 after being ranked No. 21 in the preseason AP poll.

Enfield led USC to five NCAA Tournament bids.

Arkansas reached the Elite Eight in 2021 for the first time since 1995, when the defending national champion Razorbacks played in the title game again before losing to UCLA.

Musselman was rewarded with a new contract that raised his salary from $2.5 million to $4 million and extended his agreement for five years through the 2025-26 season. He has since received two $100,000 raises and had his contract extended through the 2027-28 season.

Arkansas had its first one-and-done, first-round NBA Draft picks under Musselman with freshmen Moses Moody in 2021 and Anthony Black and Nick Smith in 2023. Jordan Walsh was a second-round pick in 2023 after his freshman season.

Musselman also coached second-round picks in Isaiah Joe (2020) and Jaylin Williams (2022), who were both drafted after their sophomore seasons.

After the Razorbacks were eliminated in the SEC Tournament with an 80-66 loss to South Carolina this season, Musselman was asked if the losing season increased his motivation level.

“I’m probably more motivated right now at this moment than I ever have been,” Musselman said. “I can’t wait to work.”

The question now is where will Musselman be working next season?

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