In the weeks leading up the announcement of a new basketball head coach, the Nevada athletic department laid a blindfold over the eyes of Wolf Pack fans.
The department was tight-lipped in matters regarding the hiring of the new coach after program mainstay David Carter had been dismissed. The ensuing evolution of possible successors looked like an advanced speed-dating course. First reports started to leak through that Tony Barbee, the former head coach at Auburn and UTEP, was the man to take the helm, but that turned out to be just a personal favor between the athletic departments. Then the Twitter rumblings linked current Arizona assistant Joe Pasternack to the job, but that didn’t hold much water either. Finally, the department revealed its guy and the successor was its ace in the hole from the start: former NBA head coach Eric Musselman.
The hiring of the former LSU associate head coach is the latest and arguably most significant addition to the most expansive turnover cycle over a two-year period in the history of Wolf Pack. With Musselman’s contract passed by the Nevada Board of Regents last Thursday, he will now join football coach Brian Polian, baseball head man Jay Johnson and athletic director Doug Knuth (all new hires in the last two years) as the new “Four Horseman” of the Nevada athletic department. Not since the days when the now-defunct World Championship Wrestling rolled through Reno has “The Biggest Little City” had front row seats for such a star-studded quartet.
However, unlike the high-rolling Horseman of pro wrestling fame, this foursome has been working on a budget. Musselman’s current contract is valued at around $400,000 a season according to a report submitted to the Regents by Nevada and is almost a quarter million dollars cheaper than the Mountain West head coach average ($639,688). Compare this with Polian’s deal; his base salary of $535,000 is $348,000 below the MW average and also with Knuth’s ($285,000 is $5,000 below). Nevada fans need to realize that the Pack has picked up another diamond in the rough. To find a candidate that had been the head coach of both the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors during different points in his career, on Nevada’s budget, is nothing short of a miracle.
Furthermore, the new head coach might need a small miracle of his own to turn the Wolf Pack men’s basketball program around. While his predecessor did end his career with a winning record at 98-97 and was a part of Nevada’s rise to mid-major glory, Carter was the head coach that oversaw the program’s brutal decline and deathblow this season. Nevada’s mountain might be tough to climb, but Musselman has taken former programs to the doorsteps of glory before. In his first year as head coach of the Golden State Warriors during the 2002-2003 season, Musselman guided the Warriors to a 38-44 record, the franchise’s highest win total in almost 10 years.
Additionally, he has received prime tutelage during his career from some of the game’s great coaches including Doc Rivers and Chuck Daly, which is similar to his new Wolf Pack colleague Brian Polian who has worked with Charlie Weis, David Shaw and Kevin Sumlin over the course of his career. Moreover, Musselman has extensive California ties just like Johnson, his baseball counterpart (Johnson’s prior coaching gig was at the University of San Diego). However, the key figure that stands out above all else in this group is the amount of youth in place. Gary Powers, Johnson’s predecessor, coached the Wolf Pack for 31 years — a number that is slightly under Johnson’s own age (37). Moreover Polian is almost three decades younger than legendary Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault: 40 and 68, respectively. The only exception is, oddly enough, Musselman who is two years older than Carter.
These figures might end up meaning nothing if they aren’t winning, but the young coaches and administrator have been blazing an exciting trail thus far. Both Polian and Johnson led their teams to winning records this season.
The future is exciting for the Wolf Pack, but what’s more exciting is that the future is now.
Chris Boline can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @CDBoline.