Murray's Mailbag: Who are the front-runners to replace Eric Musselman?

Johnny Jones
Johnny Jones could be a candidate for the Nevada head-coaching job. (AP file)

It finally happened. Eric Musselman left Nevada, doing so for the gig at Arkansas on Sunday on a deal that will pay him $12.5 million over five seasons. The news sent shock waves around Northern Nevada, so you might be able to guess most of the Monday Mailbag questions were about that move and the Wolf Pack's future. Thanks, as always, for the questions. Let's dig in.

(Note: If you're not seeing the tweets, it's probably because you're not using Google Chrome. Use Google Chrome).

Well, we don't truly know the finances Nevada is working with because only $650,000 of Musselman's $1 million annual salary came from the athletic department. The other $350,000 came from donor pledges that required signed contracts that no longer exist since Musselman left. The donors don't owe that money anymore. Will they pay up again for a new head coach? If not, Nevada is looking at a fairly limited budget. Assuming a mid-range price point, I'd talk to these six:

* UC Irvine's Russell Turner: Turner has consistently won at Irvine and took his Anteaters team further in the NCAA Tournament this season than Nevada went (the Round of 32). I know the Wolf Pack likes him and I can see why. Turner wasn't interested in the Wolf Pack job the last time it came around, but the job is better this time around. He's a strong coach and would be a solid hire.

* Montana's Travis DeCuire: DeCuire has been in the mix for the Cal job twice before falling short of getting it. He's dominated the Big Sky (where he is 71-22) and has reached back-to-back NCAA Tournaments. He reminds me of a young Trent Johnson. Of note: Montana is his alma mater, so he might not want to make a move unless it is to a Power 5 school.

* Nevada assistant Gus Argenal: The Wolf Pack's departing star players all love Argenal and want him to be the next coach. That is meaningful. Nevada has elevated an assistant once with good results (Mark Fox) and done it another time with not-so-good results (David Carter). Argenal is an excellent coach, and Nevada's brass knows that. But is he ready for this big of a job?

* Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd: I've long liked Lloyd, although it's impossible to tell if he's just a great assistant or legitimately head-coaching material. He has tons of ties internationally and has been a huge key to Gonzaga's success. He's the Zags' head coach in waiting. So was Leon Rice before he left for Boise State, and that was a good hire.

* Texas Southern's Johnny Jones: If Nevada is looking for experience, you can't do much better than Jones, who has been the head coach at Memphis, North Texas, LSU and Texas Southern, where he's at now. Jones has a good relationship with Jordan Brown's family, so he'd be able to retain the McDonald's All-American. He hasn't won big in the NCAA Tournament, but the guy can coach and recruit and has a Nevada tie, serving as the team's associate head coach in 2017-18.

* Florida State assistant Dennis Gates: Nevada appears to want to avoid career assistants, which is what Gates has been, although he's still in his 30s and will be a Division I head coach at some point in the future. He's a good recruiter and has the charisma to be the face of a program, but it's again uncertain if he's a great assistant or will make a successful head coach.

You also could throw out Chris Jans (some baggage but a great coach) and Steve Alford (the money would have to be right), but these are the options that most intrigue me.

I like Lloyd. High risk, high reward since he's never been a head coach before, but I like risk.

I prefer a young up-and-comer but you could completely miss and hire a bust that would set back the program for years, which is the risk. And if you get it right and hit a homer, somebody is going to steal that coach. That's the tough part about being a mid-major. But I like swinging for the fences. I think Nevada would prefer a coach with Division I experience. Neither model is wrong. Nevada had success with a young up-and-comer (Trent Johnson) and success with a veteran (Musselman).

You could certainly argue this, but I think the Nevada football hire made two seasons ago was more important, simply because of how important it is to win in football from a revenue standpoint. You can't have a successful athletic department financially in the Mountain West if football is a drain on your budget. And with Nevada investing about $15 million into Mackay Stadium renovations (and taking on a major loan to do so), the hiring of Jay Norvell was crucial to the health of the entire athletic department. Now, this basketball hire is super important, too. You can't mess this one up. But basketball usually turns a profit even when the team is mediocre. You can lose a lot of money in football if the fans don't show up.

This is a reference to Danyelle Musselman telling the RGJ in a text: "He's here in Reno with no plan to go anywhere," after Tuesday's erroneous reporting out of Fayetteville that Musselman was in Arkansas. This text came about two hours after I broke the news Musselman was actually in Reno. Many people, including myself, interpreted that text to mean the Musselman family had no plans to leave Reno for another job. It sounds like she meant her husband had no plan to visit Fayetteville in the near future. It was a poorly worded text that gave most of Northern Nevada false hope that Musselman was not interested in the Arkansas job as well as any other.

Look, I'm not going to take a victory lap on this one because I understand Wolf Pack fans are hurting, but I've been telling people for years that Musselman was not staying at Nevada long term. Most people didn't believe me. Some called me stupid or said I was trying to stir up trouble. I was not. I understood his ambition, which is ambition all coaches not named Mark Few have. I even wrote, "I have a better chance of winning the HGTV dream house near Seattle (I've entered twice a day for the last month) than Nevada fans have of keeping Musselman in the fold forever." I didn't win the dream house (Dammit!). And Musselman didn't stay here forever. That's life as a Nevada fan. You're going to lose your best coaches. It sucks. But it's reality. And it will always be that way. You pick yourself up and hire another good coach.

Here was my verbalization of this sentiment on Monday's NSN Daily.

As a reporter, this is where you need a follow-up question. "Do you mean you have no plans to go anywhere this week or no plans to leave Nevada?" Not sure if that follow-up question was asked, and the interview appeared to be done via text, which makes it even more difficult. I think most people took it to mean Musselman was invested in staying at Nevada, although if that was the case he would have pulled his name from the Arkansas search when his name was attached Tuesday, which he clearly didn't do.

This one is hard to sum up concisely, but people loved Eric Musselman and his family. They treated them like royalty. They thought they would be here forever. They loved to have a nationally relevant program to root for. And then it was taken away, with that family recording a "Go Hogs" video from their backyard in Reno while dawning Arkansas red. I understand why people would feel like that's a slap in the face to Nevada. I don't think it was meant that way. As soon as he took the Arkansas job, Musselman's task was to pump up the Razorbacks' fan base. That's what those videos were intended to do. But if deepened the hurt, I get it. Sunday was not supposed to feel good for Wolf Pack fans, and seeing the coach they rooted for and supported the last four years looking so happy to be leaving Nevada had to be hard.

I liked covering Musselman a lot. He was always very nice to me. He was always open and transparent. He didn't always agree with what I wrote, but he was always professional about it. He understood my job and made it easier (and enjoyable) to do. There's a reason media who have covered Musselman rave about him even after he leaves. He respects us, which many in the profession do not. He texted me during a Dodgers playoff game last year to see how I was doing. Stuff like that is cool. He treated me like an equal. Perhaps my favorite memory was when I asked him this season if I could bring my basketball-loving, 6-year-old nephew to a practice, and Musselman immediately said yes and then treated Little Mason like a king and made sure he got autographs from his favorite players. Obviously that's not on-court related, but Musselman understood his role in the community and treated strangers well.

Money aside? I don't think we can put the money aside. Musselman left for the money (and opportunity), and I don't blame him. Here's another headline we could write based on the move:

"Man leaves $5 million job for $12.5 million job."

Everybody would do that! The money was obviously a huge factor. But so was the margin for error. You have to be nearly perfect to get an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament out of the Mountain West. In the SEC, you only have to go .500 in league play like Florida did to get in the tournament where the Gators beat Nevada last month.

Arkansas is a good job, easily in the top three or four in the SEC. It has great facilities, a $10 million basketball budget, a decent recruiting footprint, a good and hungry fan base, a history of winning, can charter all flights ... and did I mention the $12.5 million!?!?!

I don't think Musselman envisioned Arkansas as his post-Nevada landing spot. He probably was looking at the Pac-12 or Big Ten. He probably would have preferred UCLA. He certainly would have preferred LSU. But you take what you can get, and Arkansas is what he got. And as much as Reno people have made fun of Fayetteville, it has been ranked in the top five places to live in the U.S. for three straight years. Money played a huge factor, but it's also a good job where you can win big.

If Wolf Pack fans feel badly, they can take solace (or maybe not) in the fact Musselman's four-year stint at Nevada was the longest of his career at any stop. Now, a lot of the time he was ascending up the ranks, and he also was fired at both of his NBA stops, so those short stints weren't his call. But he's probably best served to move around a lot. He's not the easiest guy to manage from the athletic director seat.

German chocolate cake of chantilly cream, whatever the hell that is.

Good question. So, would I rather have:

* Marqueze Coleman, Tyron Criswell, D.J. Fenner, AJ West, Robyn Missa, Stelios Papafloratos, Kaileb Rodriguez, Elijah Foster, Eric Cooper Jr. and Lucas Stivrins; or

* Lindsey Drew, Jalen Harris, Jordan Brown, Jazz Johnson, Eric Parrish, K.J. Hymes, Nisre Zouzoua, Shamiel Stevenson, Mike Lewis II and Daryl Edwards

I would rather have the second group, especially if Parrish is retained. That's a solid cast.

I actually think the fan base has reacted to it pretty well. Yes, people are disappointed, but most of what I've seen has been support for Musselman's move and gratitude for what he did at Nevada. I get that people would be sad and upset, and I've seen that, but the overriding feeling should be appreciation rather than anger, and that's what I've seen most from fans. Generally speaking, our society cares way too much about sports and not nearly enough about more important topics that impact our civilization. It's really silly in many ways. Idolatry in sports is high. It's kind of cult-ish. And when the cult's leader leaves there is sadness.

Nobody has said they're leaving yet, although I'll start making calls on that as soon as possible. I don't foresee many transfers upcoming. Lindsey Drew can't transfer unless he graduates this summer (which I think ia unlikely). Jalen Harris just redshirted under transfer rules and would have to get a waiver to play immediately if he transfers again (unlikely). Jordan Brown and Eric Parrish are the big fishes to watch. They'd be best served to wait until the next coach is hired to make a decision.

Although this shows how dumb the NCAA is. A coach can break a contract and leave a school for a gigantic raise and be eligible to coach immediately, but if a player wants to changes schools after his coach leaves he has to sit out a season? That's insanely dumb.

Unless you're a graduate transfer (or get a waiver, which is exceptionally rare), you have to sit a season following a transfer. No exceptions are made even if your coach leaves. So Brown would have to sit a year. That rule basically kept Luke Babbitt at Nevada after Mark Fox bounced to Georgia following Babbitt's freshman season. In fact, both times Nevada has signed a McDonald's All-American, the coach left for a Power 5 job the next offseason. Something to track next time Nevada inks a McDonald's All-American.

Odds are somebody will transfer, but as long as Nevada keeps Drew, Harris, Brown and Parrish it will be fine. I think it will keep all four. Ruta was in the second row of Musselman's presser today, so he's going. He's Musselman's right-hand man. Ruta was Musselman's first hire at Nevada and will be his first hire at Arkansas. He has an excellent basketball mind and has a great rapport with Musselman, who trusted Ruta as much as anybody he worked with at Nevada.

Could be a flight risk as a grad transfer if he's on pace to graduate this summer, but I think he'll stay.

1. Stays and dominates next season.

2. I have not.

I don't think any of the key pieces transfer.

They signed binding letters of intent, so they can't "back out" unless Nevada releases them from those letters, which I don't think it will do until the new coach is hired and gets a chance to talk to the committed players.

I think he'll go back to the 50-50 model (half preps; half transfers) he intended to use at Nevada. He's still going to rely on transfers, but to do so solely, like we saw for the most part over the last two seasons, isn't going to work in the SEC. You need high-end prep talent to win in the top conferences.

As for the coaches, I think just Ruta and Michael Musselman (Musselman's son and a graduate assistant at Nevada this season) will make the jump.

Nevada would like to have a hire done by the end of this week, which would be super fast. It took 13 days from when David Carter was hired until the day Musselman was hired. It took 11 days from when Brian Polian was fired to the day Jay Norvell was hired. So it shouldn't take longer than two weeks. I'm looking more in the seven- to 10-day range. I'll set the over/under at 7.5 days.

For the love of God can it not be on a weekend! I'm fine with covering a hiring on a normally schedule weekday. But leave my weekends alone!

Here is what the Wolf Pack boosters tried to do to keep Musselman.

You can read his entire contract here, but it does not state where the "annual compensation" will come from. It just says that Arkansas will establish "some portion" of his annual compensation as "university salary." And SEC schools got $43.1 million per school from the conference office last season. That's about $15 million more than Nevada's total athletic budget. Things are different in the SEC.

I don't see that happening. Trent Johnson didn't do it. Mark Fox didn't do it. Eric Musselman seems more likely than those two to do it, but that includes some long travel. It'd be nice to see, though.

My conditions: I agree to coach the Wolf Pack if the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline get another season of eligibility and opt to return to the Wolf Pack.

I think attendance was going to sink a little anyway due to the loss of the star players mentioned above. Northern Nevada will give the next coach a chance, though. And if that coach wins, they'll stick around. There was something special about Musselman's bond with Northern Nevada. People here loved him and were connected to his energy. Nevada has won a lot before, but never before have a seen the bond between a coach and its fan base like the one cultivated by Musselman. That will be hard to replace, but if the Wolf Pack continues to compete for MW titles and NCAA Tournament berths, it should rank in the top three or four of the conference in attendance along with New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV. It also depends some on whether Nevada raises season-ticket prices again. If it does that, it's going to price some folks out. There was going to be some natural attrition that would have happened whether Musselman returned or not.

A decent amount but probably not a huge chunk. I still think Nevada will have around 7,500 season-ticket holders next season, on intrigue alone. Northern Nevada is a pretty bandwagon-y sports town, so having something new and shiny to look at is sometimes a good thing. If Musselman stayed and the program took a small step back into an NIT team, you would have seen a drop in season-ticket sales, too, a feeling of staleness.

9,439 fans per home game.

Sure, but there is little un-mined upside left at Nevada. As is, Nevada won three straight MW regular-season title, reached the NCAA Tournament three straight seasons, was in the Top 25 for most of the last two years and won 28, 29 and 29 games. I don't envy the person who has to sustain that standard. Those are gigantic shoes to fill. There's almost nowhere to go but down. But the Wolf Pack could remain the standard of the MW. I don't think that's crazy.

Impossible to do. The only coach on my list of 25 who fits that mold would be Tim Miles. That's why Musselman was special and that's why the fans were drawn to him. That's also why the next Wolf Pack coach will have a nearly impossible task: win MW titles, get to the NCAA Tournament, win 25-plus games per season, fill Lawlor Events Center and have a magnetic personality. Tough gig. Nevada just needs to hire a good basketball coach who can recruit, develop players and win games. The next coach can't try to be like Musselman. He needs to be himself and win games.

And taken in Reno no less! But part of Musselman's allure is his social media game, so the Arkansas AD walking into the Musselman home in Reno and then taking a group photo together, while painful for Wolf Pack fans, was all done to market Arkansas and create some buzz on the hire. The Musselman family is all about branding and heavy on self-promotion, and there's nothing wrong with that. That's what the social media plan was all about. That's what Running with the Pack was all about. It certainly helped the school, too. But just as any smart employee would do, Musselman was branding himself for his next job as he was on his current job. I have no issue with that.

Arkansas by a hair. The Razorbacks didn't have any seniors on their team this season and were solid enough (18-16 overall, 8-10 SEC, NIT second round). Arkansas did lose Daniel Gafford, who turned pro after his sophomore season, but has a solid cast returning. Nevada could still hit 25 wins, but that's a lot less likely given this coaching change. The Wolf Pack still needs to add a couple of grad transfers and will have to learn a whole new system.

Nevada better win more than 15 games next season. 15 wins would be a disaster.

Yes. Utah State is my favorite to win the MW next season. That could change when Nevada hires a coach and fills its final three scholarships, but the Aggies are the team to beat for now.

Yep. Along with AD Doug Knuth and deputy AD Rory Hickok, who oversees basketball, Musselman spoke with the team Sunday afternoon (after the news was broken) in what was termed to me an "emotional" conversation. Hopefully the players got some closure from that discussion.

Over. Mark Fox lasted nine seasons at Georgia. I think Musselman will be more successful in his post-Wolf Pack career than Trent Johnson or Mark Fox. It really comes down to getting the players (which can be dicey in the SEC). Musselman has the rest under control. He needs to hire at least two recruiters on his full-time assistant staff. I'll say Musselman gets to at least one Sweet 16 at Arkansas, and that's basically what it will take to keep the job.

It really comes down to whether he can get elite prep players. If he can do that, he's a good enough coach to win games in the SEC and win games in the NCAA Tournament. I don't see a Final Four (or even an Elite Eight) berth in his future at Arkansas, but it's a good enough job where that could happen. I'll give him one Sweet 16 in his Razorbacks tenure (and a lot of money).

I think he'll be there for seven seasons.

No. But they do, I'll do this creepy Pig Sooie thing.

With the roster turnover that is coming due to seven seniors graduating, I don't think maintaining continuity is all that important. The new coach has to follow his own model to be successful. You can't try and be somebody you're not.

1. No. (He's going to get a six-figure raise to stay at Nevada.)

2. Not at all.

It is not normal to be able to engage the student body as well and as deeply as Musselman did. That was one of his best qualities. Many coaches can win games. Few can rally a fan base like Musselman did. He was special in that regard.

NBA experience certainly helped Musselman in recruiting, but that shouldn't be a prerequisite (or important criteria) to get the Nevada job. Most NBA coaches who have gone to college have failed.

Coaches who wouldn't return Nevada's calls the last time the job opened are probably calling Nevada now for an interview. The job is much, much better. Not only because of the recent winning but also because of the new practice facility and increased budget. It's a top-five job in the MW now. It was not a top-five job in the MW four years ago when Musselman was hired. And you can send your Muss Buss shirt to @TyBicks.

Wolf Pack AD Doug Knuth isn't talking until the hire is made, but my guess is the $750,000 range, which would eliminate some candidates (like Steve Alford).

I highly doubt Nevada's next head coach will make $1 million, but if that coach wins big, I think the Wolf Pack (and mostly the boosters) will stretch like they did with Musselman. The money is out there if Nevada hires a winner.

I like it, too. I think that's the best "win the press conference" hire Nevada could make. I don't know Alford, so I'd be guessing on whether he would be interested in a MW school. I think he would. But he's also a jumper, so he probably wouldn't be here super long, which I don't have a huge issue with. I know he got run out of UCLA, but he also made three Sweet 16s in five seasons with the Bruins and dominated the MW at New Mexico. I'd like the hire if Nevada can make the money work.

Pros: An excellent coach; would make national news; would show university is serious about diversity

Cons: Could be difficult to recruit

I was called an idiot by some people on Twitter for putting her on my list because "she's going to get an NBA job so why would she go to Nevada," but it's an intriguing fit.

No. Rick Pitino has no more backbone than a chocolate eclair. Nevada isn't hiring him. But he would win a lot. He's a very good coach.

Doubtful. Beyond the eclair situation, Pitino isn't coaching for the salary Nevada can offer.

Nevada should hire Larry Drew as head coach!

I don't think he is on track for that, and that'd be pretty dirty by Musselman. I wouldn't do that. Lindsey Drew is playing for his dad, Larry, at Nevada next season, anyway.

ACC: 11-7

Big Ten: 12-6

SEC: 11-7

Depends on who Nevada would have drawn since the conference schedules in those leagues aren't uniform.

Fifth or sixth. The SEC is all of a sudden very good at basketball with Kentucky, Auburn, Tennessee, Florida, Mississippi and Mississippi State while adding Musselman, Buzz Williams and Nate Oats to the conference this offseason. Musselman certainly took a big risk here. It's not going to be easy to win in the SEC moving forward. He's clearly confident in his coaching ability. He could have stayed at Nevada for a long time and never felt the pressure of having to deliver Sweet 16s against high-level competition versus other great coaches in his league, which is the task at Arkansas.

Not that I know of, but he'd need to get his college degree first to coach at Nevada. That's a requirement.

It needs to have a history of sustained winning. Three years won't do it. You need a decade of winning to get into big-time tournaments.

Impossible to know even given the time to research such a question. When I was at the RGJ, we tried to get an answer from the school on how much free media coverage the school got during its Sweet 16 run and never got an answer. But we're talking about millions of dollars, probably tens of millions of dollars, in free media. In terms of pure revenue, not enough. Nevada athletics had a major deficit in fiscal year 2018 despite the Sweet 16 run.

Nevada might need that to buy out whichever coach it ends up hiring. If it doesn't need it do that, it probably puts it back in the budget so it's not deep in the red again.

Unless you've been to Fayetteville (and I doubt anybody who reads anything I write has been to Fayetteville), you can't really rip the town, which is apparently a great place to live, per U.S. News and Report. I don't like when people who haven't been to Reno/Tahoe rip the area, so I won't do the same to Fayetteville (or Branson). We all can agree that Fresno sucks, though.

You are free to hate whatever you want, but I'd advise against hatred except in extreme circumstances. Nevada actually has three former staffers at Arkansas now in Musselman, Neil Harper (swimming coach) and Matt Meuchel (assistant softball coach).

Look at the corners of those cards. That's not mint condition. It's worthless. And I've never heard of either of those songs, so pass.

If you bring your Muss bus shirt down to the NSN studios on Vassar Street, we will trade you a free NSN shirt for it and then donate all Muss bus shirts to a good cause.

1. 2018 Sweet 16 (a memory that will never be forgotten)

2. Muss Bus to Arkansas (a pain that will never be forgotten)

3. Norvell leads football to a bowl win (a win is a win, but that game was exceptionally boring)

4. Panera Bread coming to Reno (call me when we get a Dave & Busters)

One of those two is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and he wears a top hot and has long, curly hair.

I was actually thinking about this last week: What meal would I eat if I had to repeat it for every meal for the rest of my life? It couldn't be pizza or something unhealthy because I'd die too quickly. I'll go with a naked burrito bowl with some chicken, beans, rice, cheese, sour cream and salsa. Not too healthy but won't kill me immediately. And I'd end up hating it within one month because if you eat anything for every meal for the rest of your life you're going to hate it pretty quickly.

I'm only eating burrito bowls for now.

Hulk. There will probably be less shirt-ripping-off in the SEC. Hard to win titles in that conference. But I'd love to see Musselman rip off his shirt the first time Arkansas upsets Kentucky at Rupp Arena.

Yes. NBA games are wine-and-cheese crowds. And the MW has nothing like Rupp Arena, as good as The Pit, Viejas Arena and The Spectrum can be.

* “Juuuuuust a bit outside, he tried the corner and missed.”

* “This guy threw at his own son in a father son game.”

* “We should’ve got the live chicken.”

* “Well, you may run like Hayes, but you hit like shit.”

* “Up your butt, Jobu.”

* Safety (a bunch of converted offensive players at that position)

* Interior offensive line (Nevada lost all three starters there)

* Outside receiver (lots of competition here)

* Third starting linebacker (outside of Gabe Sewell and Lucas Weber)

Nah. Nevada is a basketball school and a basketball town now. Even in the Chris Ault days, Mackay Stadium was a tough sell (10,906 for the second-to-last home game in the historic 2010 season; 11,558 for the third-to-last home game in 2010). Basketball is still the ticket.

Rocky road!

I'm agnostic.

A nice hike. I'll take one now.

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