(The TL;DR version is this: I love the hire. I believe that even though his history is abnormal, he has all the characteristics that align with the success we are looking for)
When we saw Trey’s first post about the coaching search, and most all of us were thinking that Sampson would be hired, I said something to the effect of: this deal is going to take some twists and turns the next few days. Admittedly, I thought we’d see some misinformation, but in the end, we’d hire Sampson.
Of course, as days went on, we all started to read up on different names that were in the mix. I was never one that thought Beard was realistic, so I spent most of time researching Sampson, Musselman and Marshall. I didn’t have to do as much on Musselman b/c last year, during Nevada’s run to the Sweet 16, I became a big, big fan.
Years ago, as we were suffering through Pel’s last year, I latched onto a coach similarly: Buzz Williams. Buzz was doing some things that others weren’t much around that time: marketing his program. As I watched video and read stories of him, I felt really strongly that even though he didn’t have much experience, he had all of the characteristics needed to be a very successful coach. Charisma, leadership, exceptional ability to connect, high attention to detail, extreme preparation habits, grit, blue collar work ethic, usage of analytics and a modern, open-minded approach to the game. At the time, I argued pretty hard for him to be considered. The knock, of course, was lack of experience and no proven success (at Marquette, Crean’s players, right?). It was a fair argument. We had just been through two inexperienced coaches. Mike emerged as the lead candidate, and I made a statement a few of you will remember: “it’s probably the best business decision right now to hire Mike Anderson.” We couldn’t fail, and there was more perceived short-term risk associated with Buzz. I was happy hiring CMA, although I didn’t prefer him (a phrase many of you have seen me use for years).
Fast forward to now, and I feel like what I probably would’ve felt like if we had hired Buzz back then…minus some risk.
I want to say this b/c I feel like we’ll need to many times the next week or so. Eric Musselman is not an up-and-comer. He has over 20 years of head coaching experience at the NCAA level or higher. Basketball junkies know Muss as a once-Wiz-kid son of Bill Musselman, the long-time professional coach that had great success in the old CBA. I’ll spare some of the quotes that you can find on his website: www.coachmuss.com; he’s just very respected by a lot of the greats in the game.
I think the most comforting thing about Muss for most fans who have researched him is that he wins at a really high clip. Save a couple of seasons in the CBA/USBL and the NBA (one year where he was NBA coach of the year runner up), he’s typically around the .750 winning percentage, which is elite company.
Muss decided late in his career that he wanted to coach in college. So, what does he do? He decides to break in as an assistant coach so that he can understand the recruiting component of the game. Worked at two high majors in Arizona State and LSU. Was on the staff that recruited Ben Simmons, Antonio Blakeney and Brandon Sampson. He saw how to land top-flight players. Then, of course, he gets hired at one of the best mid-major programs of recent past and he dominates, as he’s done at most of his stops. I think some fans have voiced that how his team ended up this year doesn’t make them feel as warm and fuzzy. I actually think the opposite. First, he showed that he knows how to win in the tournament (even with a low seed team) the year before. Then, he proceeds to win at such a high clip this year that he stayed in the top 10 for much of the season…at Nevada. Yes, he lost to Florida in the first round this year, but folks, as some of us have said over the years, that stuff is going to happen in a one-game, single-elimination situation sometimes. Nature of the beast.
Recruiting. Simply said, it’s a little bit of an unknown b/c you’re having to project what he can do with more resources, higher paid assistants at a better and bigger brand program. The good news is that he’s gone against some big dogs and won…at Nevada. Here’s the best part. He’s recognized gaps and filled them, using a more modern technique - transfers. My gut says that he’s probably had more of those than he’s wanted, but with 40% of college players transferring these days, why not penetrate that market. Smart. Modern. Plus, consider all of those characteristics I listed; those things enable recruiting success.
He’s been described by a few greats in the game as an “offensive genius”. He evolves and plays to the strengths of his players. Whew…breath of fresh air. Position-less basketball (this is a good thing, considering our roster). But, also offense that is predicated on ball movement and spacing. He charts passes; has expected 200 per game. His teams shoot a lot of threes, and typically at a good percentage. This is stuff that’s proven to be effective in the game in recent years, and recruits notice.
Defensively, it hasn’t all been rosey at Nevada - a couple of years in the low hundreds in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. But, he’s also had a couple of years defensively that were better than CMA’s best years. He plays mostly man and really preaches active hands and deflections.
Leadership. This is probably what I’m most excited about. I just never bought into CMA’s leadership style. I know he cared deeply about his players, and I think he served in a father-figure-like role for them. But, he lacked in communication and inspiration. Muss is a student of leadership (like Buzz), and it will show early and frequently. He’s tough, also, and that might not work with some players. But, I think we’re all wanting more toughness. With how Muss communicates and opens up his life to his players and his fans, I think he can get away with being super intense and tough with most all of his players.
Charisma, leadership, exceptional ability to connect, high attention to detail, extreme preparation habits, grit, blue collar work ethic, usage of analytics and a modern, open-minded approach to the game. These characteristics pop up again 8 years later. This time we get them with Coach Muss. And, my confidence level is every bit as high as it was with Buzz then. I’m excited to see what he does with this program.