Friday, May 24, 2024

USC hires Eric Musselman as coach: Trojans poach Arkansas boss in shock move to replace Andy Enfield

USC has hired Arkansas men’s head basketball coach Eric Musselman to the same position, the school announced on Thursday. Musselman interviewed for the job Wednesday with Trojans athletic director Jennifer Cohen, sources confirmed to CBS Sports. 

The Trojans poaching Musselman from Arkansas is a sport-shaking move. Once upon a time, the idea of a coach leaving the hoops hotbed of Arkansas for USC was borderline unthinkable, but these are different times. Circumstances matter a lot as well. Musselman was heavily swayed by the location, in addition to a fresh start after a rocky 2023-24 season that ended with a whimper. The opportunity presented itself once Andy Enfield decided to leave USC after 11 seasons to start anew at SMU

“My family and I couldn’t be more excited for this incredible opportunity at USC,” Musselman said in a statement. “I am grateful to President Folt and Jen Cohen for the chance to lead the men’s basketball program at such a world-class university with a rich tradition of success. We will be committed to the development of our student-athletes and upholding the values that make the Trojan Family so special. We will hit the ground running and work tirelessly to make our great alumni, fans and all of Los Angeles proud.”

Musselman, 59, spent the past five seasons in Fayetteville, Arkansas, guiding the Razorbacks to Elite Eight runs in 2021 and 2022 as well as a Sweet 16 appearance in 2023. When Arkansas made the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in 2021, it marked the first time in 25 years the Hogs had earned a Sweet 16 berth. He had restored something meaningful there. But, this past season was the low point; despite being ranked in the preseason, Musselman’s team severely underachieved and wound up 16-17, his only sub-.500 run with the program.

Over the past five years, Musselman went 111-59 and had four seasons between 20-28 wins. His career mark in Division I is 221-93; Musselman spent four seasons at Nevada before taking the Arkansas job in 2019.

Musselman’s name had been loosely attached to other openings in the past two years, but his time a move came to fruition. He’s a journeyman coach. Musselman has coached in the NBA (Golden State from 2002-04, Sacramento in 2006-07), the G League, overseas, semi-pro ball and spent many years as an NBA and D-I assistant. He’s held more than a dozen jobs in more than three decades of coaching. Moving from one spot to another is what he’s done his entire career. Musselman’s longest time at one location was in the Continental Basketball Association when he coached the Rapid City Thrillers from 1991-97 before turning 30. Arkansas  was the second-longest tenure in his career.

“I am beyond excited to welcome Eric, Danyelle and their incredible family to USC,” Cohen said. “We were determined to find the best coach to champion the development of our student-athletes and elevate our men’s basketball program. His track record of building winning programs and his unwavering commitment to a culture of excellence make him the perfect fit for USC. Eric displays heart, boldness, resiliency, and everything that it means to be a Trojan. He inspires togetherness and will help build and grow the program’s connectivity within the Trojan community. As we move to the Big Ten and enter a new chapter for USC Men’s Basketball, there is no better fit than Eric Musselman to launch our program to new heights.”

At USC, Musselman will face significantly less pressure at a program with significantly less prestige. The Trojans haven’t won a regular-season conference championship since 1985. By moving into the 18-team Big Ten, the chances of that don’t increase. Plus, the program plays in the far shadows of nearly a dozen other college and professional teams that are bigger draws across greater Los Angeles.

It also remains to be seen if one of college basketball’s most famous players, Bronny James, will opt to return for a sophomore season. 

A deal with Musselman was negotiable for USC in part because his buyout dropped to $1 million earlier this week, which kept his price tag manageable. Musselman was most recently making $4.2 million at Arkansas. Sources connected to USC’s search indicated to CBS Sports that Cohen would be willing to be competitive in that salary range in order to pack up the Muss Bus for the West Coast. 

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