Musselman of Arkansas learns from sports leaders


FAYETVILLE. Eric Musselman has vivid memories almost 50 years ago of meeting his father, Bill Musselman, with pro football legend Paul Brown.

The meeting took place at the kitchen table in Musselman’s home in San Diego, shortly after Bill Musselman was hired to coach ABA’s Sails for the 1975-76 basketball season.

Brown, best known as the coach of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, lived in nearby La Jolla, California, and trained for the 1975 football season, his last as coach of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Eric Musselman was 10 years old and moved with his family from Minneapolis, where his father was a coach at the University of Minnesota.

“My father never coached professional basketball,” said Musselman, now 58 and in his fourth season as a coach at the University of Arkansas. “So he invited Paul Brown to our house to talk about coaching with professional players.

“I remember they dated for what seemed like two hours. The whole time they were talking about that first team meeting my father was preparing for with the Sails and how pro players would read you at their first team meeting and decide if they wanted to buy.

“Their conversation was focused on the preparation you had to make for this meeting, the message you were going to send, how you were going to get your message out there.”

Bill Musselman became friends with Billy Martin, Major League manager of the Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees, Minnesota Twins, Oakland A’s, and Texas Rangers, and Ballard Smith, president of the San Diego Padres. “.

Eric Musselman said that when his father was at the University of Minnesota, he also spoke frequently with Bud Grant, the coach of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, and Herb Brooks, who coached the 1980 Olympic gold medal-winning US hockey team and coached the gold medalist. medal. Gophers, as well as NHL teams.

“It was one of the slightly unique things that I saw my father do, date football and hockey coaches and be friends with the Major League manager and executive,” Musselman said. “Watching him, I realized that you can learn from everyone.”

Musselman, who followed his father as an NBA and college coach, also has a habit of dating coaches and executives from other sports.

During the off-season, Musselman visited many Major League managers, including Dusty Baker of the Houston Astros; Phil Nevin of the Los Angeles Angels and his predecessor Joe Madden; Cleveland Guardians Terry “Tito” Francona; and Mike Matheny of the Kansas City Royals.

Among the NFL coaches Musselman met were Andy Reid of the Kansas City Chiefs, Mike McCarthy of the Dallas Cowboys; Brandon Staley of the Los Angeles Chargers; Robert Saleh of the New York Jets; and Matt Rule of the Carolina Panthers, who is now Nebraska’s coach.

When the Razorbacks played the NCAA Tournament in Buffalo, New York last season, Musselman faced Bills coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Bean.

“Every time I met with one of the managers and coaches, I would go back and write down my first impression and what I would think if I was a player,” Musselman said.

Baker, 73, led the Astros to a World Series title last season.

“The only guy who was just incredible in terms of connection and put someone at ease was Dusty Baker,” Musselman said.

“I was struck by his cool attitude towards his players.”

Nevin and Musselman became friends a few years ago when they were both in Reno, Nevada. Nevin was the manager of the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Musselman was the coach of Nevada.

“Our conversations have always gravitated towards leadership, locker room management, dealing with certain situations with players,” Nevin said. “We talked about in-game strategy and patterns.

“I cherish my friendship with Eric and love spending time with him.”

The Guardians had the youngest major league roster last season and started 19-24 but rallied to win the American League Central Division title 92-70 and beat the Tampa Bay Rays in the playoffs before lose to the Yankees 3 games. up to 2.

“Tito was incredible,” Musselman said. “We were very pleased to hear about how you cope with such a young team. It was like, “You have to train them every day, you have to teach them every day.” You cannot take for granted what they may or may not know.

“Then you saw the Guardians season unfold and they had such a strong finale.”

Arkansas State Athletic Director Hunter Yuracek said he was not surprised by Musselman’s interest in meeting leaders in other sports.

“I think Eric has an unquenchable thirst to learn and grow as a coach,” Yuracek said. “He believes that those professional coaches, managers and administrators with whom he communicates can help him teach something new.

“He can extract a nugget, two or three of each, to become a better coach and make him the best leader of our men’s basketball program. And I’m betting that these coaches, managers and administrators probably think the same way about Eric, that they too can learn something from him because of his success.”

Musselman and his son Michael, the Razorbacks COO, visited Staley and Chargers general manager Tom Telesco.

“I wanted to analytically find out how the Chargers are approaching the matter,” said Eric Musselman. “We were with [Staley] for nearly two hours. He eventually had to leave because his daughter had a swimming competition.

“We could stay there all night. It was amazing. He asked us questions and we asked him questions. I just couldn’t believe how sweet, attractive and willing to share he was.”

Rule invited Musselman to attend a Panther retreat for coaches and front office staff before training camp began.

“The retreat was on a lake about an hour from Charlotte,” Musselman said. “I have to get up and speak, sit in their meetings and listen.”

When the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup last season, Musselman and his team spent time watching footage of their game as they beat the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“We love learning how connected they are as a team,” Musselman wrote in an email to The Denver Post. “To play as fast and subwoofers as they are, they need to be connected. The players on the ice are linked and the bench monitors the game to know when it’s time for them to be replaced.

“We talk to our team all the time about staying connected. We also talk about staying on the bench when the opportunity presents itself.

“In terms of offense, we looked at the pace of the game and how fast they play. The constant pressure that the Avalanche puts on defense would be like our team pushing the ball and not wanting to play half court sets but playing forward with a transition.”

Nevin attended Arkansas games at Walton Arena and watched practices.

“I’m not a basketball player and I don’t pretend to be, but I definitely learned a lot from being around Eric and watching him coach,” Nevin said. “Being in his training and seeing what he teaches and believes in and then seeing how it translates into the game is very interesting to me.

“You can see how much he cares about his players and how his players react to him. You can tell they love to play for him. He trains them diligently, but he trains them as if they were all his sons.”

Nevin and Adam Engroff, another friend of Musselman and an NFL scout for the Miami Dolphins, sat next to each other in Arkansas’ first game of the season against North Dakota State.

When the Dolphins spent a week in California in December because they were back-to-back on the road against the San Francisco 49ers and Chargers, Nevin, who lives in San Diego, attended a practice session hosted by Miami at UCLA at Engroff’s invitation. In Los Angeles.

“I mentioned how intrigued I was [Dolphins] Trainer [Mike] McDaniel, watched his press conferences, read about him,” Nevin said. “Adam said, ‘If you want to go to practice, let me know.’

“So I had a really great day watching the Dolphins practice and meeting Mike McDaniel and their general manager Chris Grier.

“You will learn about how different organizations work and how practices are carried out. You see how the players react to the coaches.

“I will never miss an opportunity to improve.”

So does Musselman.

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