Eric Musselman’s raise and contract extension at the University of Arkansas was the biggest no brainer to come along in years. For over two weeks social media was filled with Razorback fans begging athletic director Hunter Yurachek to unload a truck load of money on the second year head basketball coach and sign him up for life. Each time a job opened up (like at North Carolina) there were immediate fears that coach Muss was taking his bus to another location.
But from the beginning there were some not so subtle clues that Arkansas 2021 Elite Eight coach was staying in place, starting with his furious recruiting and landing of three high profile grad transfers. An Arizona basketball fan used all that activity to conclude that the search for a replacement for the fired Sean Miller must not have included Musselman or he would not be recruiting at such a furious pace in his current job. For the record it does appear that Musselman did at least talk to officials at Arizona but decided to pass on their offer, possibly after receiving a counter offer from Arkansas.
Before that the word had spread through the Arkansas sports media and in fan circles that Musselman and his entire family had found a home in Northwest Arkansas and they planned to stay. In various Zoom interviews with the media Musselman dropped several hints to that effect including one in which he detailed the importance of working for an athletic director that was on his same page.
Finally there was the Yurachek tweet showing Yurachek and his wife Jennifer lifting their classes in a toast to Eric and Danielle Musselman with the message, “Sleep well Arkansas! @RazorbackMBB is in good hands.”
Anybody with a brain knew what was up. But I have to believe it was fun for most fans. A lot better than the drama surrounding whether or not a coach is about to be fired. The contract specifics were about the only thing open for real debate until the official announcement was made. One fan on Twitter claimed to have sources indicating that Musselman would be given a seven-year, $35 million contract. That seemed like a stretch and indeed it was. The contract calls for a five-year extension at $4 million per year plus other incentives. Musselman becomes the second highest paid Arkansas coach ever behind the $4.1 million Bret Bielema was making when he was fired in 2017. It is about $1 million a year more than current head football coach Sam Pittman is making.
Where is this money coming from in light of the revenue shortfalls created by COVID? The word is, certain boosters stepped in to help. If that’s true don’t expect that arrangement to be permanent. At some point fans can expect to see ticket prices to go up dramatically to help pay for this increase and to compensate for the revenue shortfalls of the past year. The kind of success Musselman has created, if sustained, will not come on the cheap.
One other note, when he was hired Yurachek indicated that he was opposed to the soaring buyout clauses that are included in most contacts these days to protect coaches (and their agents) if they are fired. Bielema’s buyout was over $12 million. How much of that will actually be paid is the subject of a current lawsuit filed by Bielema against the Razorback Foundation. So what is Musselman’s buyout? “An amount equal to seventy percent of Coach’s remaining annual compensation from the effective date of the term as if the agreement has not been terminated including any extensions thereof,” according to his new contract.
Another provision of the contract provides for an automatic extension of the five-year contract as long as Arkansas makes the NCAA Tournament field up to two additional years. Failure to make the tournament for two straight seasons allows the length of contract to be reduced. The bottom line, as long as Musselman is successful he’s going to be protected with a hefty buyout. If, for some reason, his success drops what he’s owed in a buyout would start to be reduced.
Much more likely than facing a buyout payment to Musselman is the possibility of continuing to increase his compensation to keep him. The fretting by Hog fans may end up becoming annual ritual with other schools coming after him if his success at Arkansas continues at a high level. However history suggests that Arkansas coaches who are hired with no previous ties to the state and achieve a high level of success do not use the school as a stepping stone to other jobs.
Frank Broyles, Nolan Richardson, John Mc Donnell, Norm DeBriyn, Dave Van Horn and Lance Harter on the women’s side each had opportunities to take other jobs and stayed. Will Eric Musselman join that club?
Time will tell.