Do Not Rule Eric Musselman Out as Next Gophers MBB Coach

Photo: Michael Reaves - Getty Images

Eric Musselman grew up in Minneapolis where, from the ages of 7-11 (1971-1975), he watched his father, Bill Musselman, run the Minnesota Gophers men’s basketball program. Fast forward a half-century, Eric has been a college basketball head coach — Nevada (2015-2019) and Arkansas (2019-Present)– for eight seasons and he’s quickly built a reputation as one of the best teachers and coaching personalities in the country.

How good has he been? Musselman has a career 205-76 NCAA coaching record and his teams have made the NCAA Tournament in 6 of his 8 collegiate coaching seasons, including two Elite Eight and two Sweet Sixteen appearances.

Eric Musselman’s past interest in Gophers MBB head coaching job

Throughout his coaching career, which has mostly been at the pro level (NBA, D-League, CBA, USBA), Eric Musselman has expressed interest in an eventual return to the state he grew up in. Musselman has been a candidate/finalist during the last two Gopher MBB coaching searches.

A decade ago (2013), when Tubby Smith was fired, Musselman was one of the last candidates standing before then Athletic Director, Norwood Teague, hired Richard Pitino.

By the time Pitino was fired in 2021, Musselman already had two seasons and an Elite Eight run under his belt at Arkansas. That, combined with his success at Nevada, made Musselman one of the most expensive and well-known candidates AD Mark Coyle was considering at the time.

Still, if Minnesota was willing to pay his buyout and a similar salary, Musselman was legitimately interested. Instead, Coyle hired the cheapest and least-known candidate, Ben Johnson, another homegrown kid (DeLaSalle) and Xavier assistant who had zero head coaching experience.

Yes, Musselman would reportedly have interest in Minnesota job again.

In two seasons as Gophers head coach, Johnson has posted a 22-39 overall record, including two of the worst Big Ten seasons in Gopher men’s basketball history and life isn’t expected to improve in his third year.

Minnesota lost one of its best players over the last two seasons, Jamison Battle, to a big NIL deal at conference rival, Ohio State, and most experts have the Gophers picked to finish at the bottom of the Big Ten for the third-straight year. Should those predictions become reality, Ben will be fired at season’s end and Mark Coyle will, yet again, be searching for a new MBB head coach.

At first glance, it seems nearly impossible that Musselman would have any interest in leaving Arkansas, in favor of Minnesota. That would mean taking over one of the worst power-5 men’s basketball programs in the country, and leaving a program he’s built into a Sweet Sixteen / Elite Eight regular.

But, according to long-time Twin Cities insider and Pioneer Press columnist Charley Walters, that’s the wrong assumption. If the price is right,

— Pssst: Don’t think Arkansas men’s basketball coach Eric Musselman, a two-time NBA head coach, wouldn’t consider the possibility of coaching the Gophers, which his father Bill once coached, for the right offer.

Charley Walters – Pioneer Press
What would Gophers have to pay up for Musselman?

According to Walters, Eric Musselman is currently making $4 million per year at Arkansas so he’d have to get a bigger offer from Minnesota, in order to leave. His buyout, however, will be an extremely low $1 million after the 2023-24 season, which would give he and the Gophers athletic department a perfect window for negotiation.

For comparison purposes, Ben Johnson is making $2 million per season. It’s also important to remember how much more money athletic departments in the Big Ten will have rolling in this season and beyond, after their new $7 billion TV deal kicked in last week (July 1).

Brian Dutcher (SDSU) could be even more gettable.

In the same column that he mentioned Musselman as a possible replacement for Ben Johnson, Walters also names Brian Dutcher as a probable candidate. The U of M grad has been at San Diego State for 2+ decades (mostly as an assistant) and coached them to the National Championship game last season.

— Although Brian Dutcher is loyal to San Diego State, the Gophers would be expected to consider the Bloomington Jefferson and Minnesota grad if there’s a men’s basketball coaching change, which seems likely, after the coming season.

Charley Walters – Pioneer Press

Charley didn’t get the green light on reporting Dutcher’s interest in the Gopher head coaching job, like he did Musselman, but Brian has roots even more entrenched in University of Minnesota history and maintains a clause in his contract at SDSU that makes his buyout a fraction of the cost, should he leave for his alma-mater.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan