Musselman in a good place | RecordCourier.com

Musselman in a good place

Joe Santoro

Eric Musselman is going to leave the Nevada Wolf Pack men's basketball program anytime soon. So relax, Wolf Pack fans. The Muss Bus is doing pretty well in Nevada, on and off the court. Anything, of course, could happen but it would take a very unique offer for him to leave the Pack before the start of the 2018-19 season. The biggest reason he'll likely stay for now is that the team has already shown it can win in the NCAA tournament. Musselman can win a national title in the near future as easily (or easier) at Nevada as he can anywhere else there might be an opening in the coming months. Can money lure him away from the Pack? Maybe someday. But he already gets a base salary of $1 million from the Pack, a deal that runs through the 2021-22 season. This year, for example, he has already earned a $10,000 bonus for winning the Mountain West regular season title, another $10,000 for getting to the NCAA tournament, and another $10,000 for each victory in the tournament. He's not worried about clipping coupons before he goes shopping. And don't be shocked if the Pack sweetens his deal once again in the coming weeks. That would serve two purposes. It would show him how much Nevada loves him and it would calm the nerves of anxious Pack fans worried about losing their basketball savior.

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Right now there are only two openings (Louisville, Pittsburgh) in college basketball that Musselman would likely even consider. It's not that Musselman couldn't win at either Pitt or Louisville but neither job is all that attractive. Also, the Wolf Pack is far closer to winning a national title right now than either of those two places. But if Musselman does leave soon, it might be to the NBA. All you have to do is talk to Musselman for five minutes to understand that the taste of the NBA is still in his mouth. He is always referencing NBA players, coaches and teams. You don't have to be Sigmund Freud to figure out he might like another shot at the NBA someday. He's already been a NBA head coach for three years, starting in his late 30s. He's a much better coach now. He's amazing with the media. Players of all ages adore him. He knows how to sell tickets. And he will outwork every other coach in the league. Some team in the NBA would be smart to throw big money at him right now.

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The conventional thinking in the basketball world used to be that college coaching success does not translate to the NBA. Rick Pitino, Lon Kruger, John Calipari, Tim Floyd, P.J. Carlesimo and Mike Montgomery, to name just a half dozen, all failed to impress in the NBA in recent decades. But Brad Stephens might have changed all that. Stephens led Butler to back-to-back NCAA title game appearances and went to five NCAA tournaments in six years. He is now very successful as the head coach of the Boston Celtics. But that doesn't mean that Musselman is jumping, say, to the Atlanta Hawks or Cleveland Cavaliers after this season. Stephens showed patience, staying two more seasons at Butler after his second NCAA title game before going to the Celtics. The lure of NCAA success kept him at Butler for at least a few more years. Musselman still has a lot of winning to do at Nevada.

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Wolf Pack basketball fans might be in for a treat in the coming years. How about Musselman vs. Mark Fox showdown every season in the Mountain West? Fox, the former Wolf Pack head coach (his five-year era ended in 2008-09), was fired by the Georgia Bulldogs earlier this month after nine seasons. But his name has already surfaced in media reports as being one of the finalists for the Utah State Aggies job. He has also been connected with the current Colorado State opening. Shame on Fresno State for not already offering him their job. Fox, still just 49-years-old, did a solid job at Georgia with a 163-133 record and two NCAA tournament appearances. He'd no doubt make Utah State very competitive in the Mountain West. There also would not be an empty seat at Lawlor Events Center when Fox came to town to battle with Musselman.

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There are quite a few former Wolf Pack head coaches looking for work right now. Fox's firing at Georgia means that former Wolf Pack head coach David Carter, a Fox assistant at Nevada and Georgia, is also out of work. Former Wolf Pack head coach Trent Johnson is also available. Johnson assisted former Northern Nevada product David Padgett at Louisville this season and Padgett was told recently that he wouldn't return to the Cardinals. Other than Fox, it would appear that Padgett has the best chance of all the unemployed ex-Pack head coaches, to become a head coach again some day. Padgett did a great job in the fallout of the Rick Pitino scandal surrounding the Louisville program this year, compiling a 22-14 overall record with a trip to the NIT. After six years as an assistant coach and now one as ahead coach, Padgett is still just 33-years old and has a very bright future in his chosen profession.

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The Wolf Pack's success in the NCAA tournament this year could be the kickstart the Mountain West has been looking for in recent years. First of all, there's the always important matter of NCAA payouts. It's a complicated formula, but each of the 11 basketball schools in the conference share equally in the Pack's success. The more a team wins in the NCAA tournament, the more each team in the conference benefits. But beyond that, the Pack's success has likely made the conference more attractive to other schools and the NCAA selection committee. It has already been reported that Gonzaga, which dominates the West Coast Conference every year, is already interested in joining the Mountain West. Former Mountain West member BYU, also in the WCC, is also sniffing around the conference again. Thanks to the Pack, there's no doubt anymore that the Mountain West is the second best basketball conference in the west behind the Pac-12.

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Has the Wolf Pack's success this season changed the program forever? Well, expectations for next year will be through Lawlor Events Center's roof. But that will only last as long as the team wins big, in the regular season and NCAA tournament. Attendance is already high. A school record 9,048 fans showed up on average for each game this season. That figure could very well go over 10,000 next year, putting even more money in Musselman's pocket. But all that means is fewer parking spots and longer bathroom and concession lines for the fans. Pack success in the tournament could mean that big-time recruits will now line up to come to Nevada. But, again, that will last only as long as Musselman is the coach. Just enjoy the ride and don't worry about how it changes Wolf Pack basketball. Let Musselman worry about that.

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The Pack is on a path to becoming the Gonzaga of the Mountain West. But that path has only just begun. Gonzaga has made the NCAA tournament 19 times and won 17 West Coast Conference regular season titles in coach Mark Few's 19 seasons. There are only two problems with that sort of scenario for the Pack. The first problem is getting Musselman to stay 19 years. Right now there's no guarantee he will stay another 19 months. The second problem is that the Mountain West is a much tougher basketball conference, top to bottom, than Gonzaga's WCC. The rest of the Mountain West has been down the last two years but you can expect programs like San Diego State, UNLV, New Mexico, Boise State, Colorado State, Fresno State and even Utah State if Fox jumps aboard, to get better and better. Most of them already showed improvement this year. Gonzaga basically only has to worry about Saint Mary's and BYU year after year in the WCC. If Gonzaga does indeed jump to the Mountain West, it would have to worry about a half dozen programs every year, which might be reason alone for the Zags to stay where they are.