May 27, 2024

At a critical crossroads for its men’s hoops program, USC announced it has tapped Arkansas coach Eric Musselman to guide the Trojans into a new conference and a new era, after the last one ended with a thud.

Musselman interviewed with USC on Wednesday, just two days after Andy Enfield left USC for the same role at Southern Methodist after 11 seasons, five NCAA tournament appearances and 220 wins in L.A., the third-most in school history.

Few college coaches can match what Musselman managed in his short tenure at Arkansas, a program that languished for two decades in the middle of the Southeastern Conference. Fresh off three consecutive NCAA tournament trips as Nevada’s coach, Musselman led the Razorbacks to the Elite Eight in just his second season (2021), then followed with another Elite Eight trip in 2022 and a Sweet 16 berth in 2023, before Arkansas veered off the course in 2024, skidding to 16-17 and tying for 11th in the SEC standings.

A disappointing finish last season did little to shake interest around the sport in Musselman, though. His name was floated for several openings over the last month, from Louisville to Michigan to DePaul. Even SMU appeared to make a run at Musselman, before setting its sights on Enfield at USC.

With Musselman’s future in Fayetteville looking increasingly uncertain, Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek posted a video on social media last week in an apparent effort to garner confidence in the coach’s return to campus. In the video, Yurachek steps onto a school bus and finds Musselman, whom he asks, “You’re still here?”

The video appeared to suggest Musselman was staying in Arkansas. But a week later, Musselman was off to Southern California.

What awaits him in L.A., however, remains very much in flux. Assuming star freshman Isaiah Collier declares for the NBA draft, as expected, and defensive stalwart Kobe Johnson sticks with his plans to transfer to UCLA, USC will have to replace all five of its starters from last season. Its top recruit, Harvard Westlake’s Trent Perry, reopened his recruitment this week. Two key reserves, Oziyah Sellers and Kijani Wright, are currently in the transfer portal and may at some point be joined by freshman Bronny James.

As rumors swirl about his son’s future, LeBron James said Tuesday that Bronny had “some tough decisions to make.”

For USC, hiring a coveted coach with California ties like Musselman marks a major coup at such a late juncture in the offseason carousel. A former University of San Diego basketball player, Musselman coached for more than a decade in the NBA, including short stints as head coach of the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings, before returning to the college game. He served as an assistant at Arizona State and Louisiana State, before Nevada hired him to turn around its program. He made the NCAA tournament each of the next six years, between stops in Reno and Fayetteville, before the wheels fell off for Arkansas this season.

Musselman was paid accordingly for that success, as his annual salary at Arkansas reached $4.245 million in 2023, 12th-most among college basketball coaches nationally. Enfield’s last known salary at USC, by comparison, was $3.8 million.

Luring Musselman to L.A. likely means making him one of the highest-paid hoops coaches in USC’s new conference. Just two coaches in the Big Ten were paid more than Musselman last season: Michigan State’s Tom Izzo ($6.196 million) and Illinois’ Brad Underwood ($4.7 million).

He’ll have the chance to earn his keep right away at USC, where a big check and a blank slate awaits.

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