Eric Musselman’s 26-year coaching odyssey has stretched from Rapid City, South Dakota to Memphis, Tennessee to most recently Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The 50-year-old coach has seemingly done it all, almost.
National Basketball Association head coach? Check. NBA D-League head coach? Check. Continental Basketball Association coach? Check. Venezuela national basketball coach? Check and check. National Collegiate Athletic Association assistant coach? Checkmate.
However, until Thursday, March 26, there was one item Musselman’s lengthy resume lacked: NCAA head coach.
That’s no longer the case after Musselman inked a five-year, two-million dollar deal to become the Wolf Pack’s 18th head coach.
The head coaching gig is Musselman’s 12th of his career, including a two-year stint as the Golden State Warriors head coach from 2002-2004 and the Sacramento Kings during 2006-2007.
Aside from his three seasons in the NBA, Musselman has posted a winning record each time as a head coach.
Nevada is a new animal, however. Musselman will be tasked with turning around a program on a shoestring budget (the league’s second-least) and a three-year streak of losing seasons. The excuses are there, but Musselman isn’t buying them.
“We have what we need to win here,” Musselman said. “I know with myself and my players, all we need is two buckets and 94 feet and we’re ready to rock and roll.”
During the head coaching search, Wolf Pack athletic director Doug Knuth had a baseline criteria for Nevada’s next head coach — a great recruiter, a coach that can develop players and one who can engage the community.
Musselman checks all three boxes, according to Knuth.
“When you look at what this basketball program needs to get us back to the top of the conference or back to postseason play, you talk about recruiting, you talk about player development and you talk about engagement and frankly, there is nobody with the skills and nobody with the ability and knowledge to get us there quicker and do it in the right way than Eric Musselman,” Knuth said.
Recruiting might be Musselman’s biggest question mark. Musselman didn’t enter the college coaching realm until 2012, when he joined Arizona State for two seasons. A year ago, Musselman served as Louisiana State’s associate head coach.
Now, he’ll be pushed to recruit against the likes of San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher, New Mexico head coach Craig Neal (who actually played under Musselman in 1989 with the Rapid City Thrillers in the CBA), among others in arguably the top mid-major basketball conference. Not that Musselman minds the challenge.
“The Mountain West is a great conference and I think this a positive,” Musselman said. “I don’t see that as a negative. Great players should want to play against great players.”
Musselman has two scholarships to hand out during the upcoming year. However, recruiting the current players on the team is a chief priority.
Transfers are common when a head coach is replaced and even when a player stays following a head coach swap, sometimes tension rises between the old regime’s players and the new ones.
Musselman was in the midst of that when he played collegiately at the University of San Diego. USD head coach Jim Brovelli recruited Musselman to the school, before Hank Egan replaced him after Musselman’s freshman campaign.
He’ll draw on that experience more than three decades later.
“What I learned as a player is we felt the first couple of weeks, ‘Are we Coach Egan’s guys because Coach Brovelli recruited us?’” Musselman said. “We found out very quickly that if you buy in, it’s one big family. I have great sensitivity to the guys coach Carter recruited because I’ve been in there shoes.”
Musselman had a team meeting with Nevada players the morning of his introductory press conference. The team was in the gym practicing the following day.
For Musselman, who has coached players such as Metta World Peace, Gilbert Arenas, Jeremy Lin, among others, he’s excited about leaving a dent in the lives of young men.
“We’re not just coaching the next four years of their life, but hopefully I’ll have an impact on these young men as they become adults over the next 40 years and really that’s the most exciting part for me,” Musselman said.
Eric Uribe can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @Uribe_Eric.