King Muss: How one man reigns over Reno

Eric Musselman with his hands out coaching on the sideline

Eric Musselman with his hands out coaching on the sideline

File Photo/Nevada Sagebrush

Since coming to Nevada in 2015, Eric Musselman has made it his quest to conquer the NCAA. Nevada has dominated the Mountain West landscape capturing two regular season conference titles and one Mountain West Tournament championship.

Musselman rules with an iron fist. His players are not afraid of him but they do respect him. They are his knights while his coaching staff are royal court. Musselman isn’t happy with just reigning over the West, he wants to rule the nation.

Musselman has coached at every level of basketball, from the NBA to international circuit to college. Eric Musselman is the son of the late Bill Musselman, a legendary coach in the basketball world. Bill Musselman was successful in his own right, but his coaching tree is his biggest impact. Current Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau and Washington Wizards head coach Scott Brooks are just two names on the list. Eric Musselman tried his hand in the NBA coaching ranks but did not see much success. In two seasons with the Golden State Warriors from 2002-04 he won only 75 games. He would get another shot in 2006-07 with the Sacramento Kings but would only win 33 games.

The hiring of Musselman was one that might have come as a surprise to Nevada fans. Although he did have a Reno connection from his one year as the Bighorns head coach, Musselman had no collegiate head coaching experience and had spent the previous three seasons as an assistant at Arizona State and LSU. But in each of those seasons, the teams would reach postseason tournaments — Arizona State had back-to-back NIT appearances while LSU reached the NCAA tournament.

Nevada basketball was a nine-win team the year before Musselman was hired. Nevada football was not the spectacle it used to be and Nevada became almost irrelevant in the major college sports world. The city who hadn’t had a big name star since Colin Kaepernick left in 2011, now had one in Musselman.

Musselman perfectly fits Reno’s Biggest Little City motto. At just 5’5”, Musselman is the biggest personality in the city. His fiery attitude combined with winning is what lead fans to support him over former Nevada football head coach Brian Polian who struggled with the winning part.

After the 2016-17 season, Musselman was a highly-coveted coach on the market. Cal, a school that has had their eyes on Musselman since 2013 once again tried their hand at him.  Musselman decided to stay with the Wolf Pack signing a five-year extension on May, 9, 2017. Musselman’s deal is the highest in school history for a coach as he gets paid $1 million per year, which can increase if he hits the incentives included.

Musselman is 83-29 in three plus years as the Nevada head coach. His .741 winning percentage is tied with former head coach Mark Fox for the highest percentage in school history. Prior to Musselman’s arrival, the Wolf Pack had had zero success since moving to the Mountain West before the 2012-13 season, never winning more than 15 games in a season. Nevada has won 24 or more games every year under Musselman. Last season, Nevada won a school record 29 games. This season the Wolf Pack were ranked seventh in the AP preseason poll — the highest ranking in school history until this past week as the Pack moved up one more spot to sixth. The previous highest ranking was tenth in 2006-07 season.  

Musselman has reached the postseason in each of his first three seasons at the helm and is expected to do that once again with this year’s team. The College Basketball Invitational title in 2016 was Nevada basketball’s first ever postseason title. Winning in front of the Reno crowd seemed to be the point Musselman engrained himself into the Reno community. Nevada reached the NCAA tournament the following year, getting bounced in a first round matchup with Iowa State. Nevada reached even greater heights as they not only returned to the NCAA Tournament but advanced to the Sweet 16.

Taking mid-major schools to great heights is nothing new to college basketball. Shaka Smart led VCU of the Atlantic 10 Conference to a CBI championship in his first season in 2010. Smart then continued his success to leading his team to the Final Four in 2011 where they would lose to another mid-major in Butler coached by Brad Stevens. Butler would lose to Duke in the national championship but Smart and Stevens became big names in the coaching field. Smart would leave VCU to coach Texas, a team Musselman and Nevada would defeat in last year’s NCAA Tournament. Stevens would leave Butler to become the head coach of the Boston Celtics in 2013.

Musselman has already tried the NBA circuit with little success. Teams other than Cal, have tried to snatch Musselman away from Nevada. In an interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal, Nevada Athletic Director Doug Knuth said in 2017, “We’re doing everything we can to make sure Muss stays with us and stays happy here. He means a lot to our community, he means a lot to our department and he means a lot to our basketball program.” It looks as if Musselman and his family have found a home in Reno surrounded by a community that admires them.  

The Musselman name has now become synonymous with the University of Nevada, Reno, and the city of Reno itself. Musselman married to former ESPN reporter Danyelle Sargent Musselman. The two have a seven year-old daughter together, Mariah. Mariah became the darling of the 2018 NCAA Tournament as Nevada made their run to the Sweet 16. The three are the unofficial first family of Reno.

Eric Musselman has two sons from a previous marriage. The eldest, Michael, is in his first year as a graduate assistant for the Wolf Pack. Adding another branch to the Musselman family coaching tree.

While Muss sits atop his throne, Danyelle is also active in the community. She has introduced healthy food options to Lawlor Events Center thanks to Nevada’s collaboration with Renown health.

The Musselman clan thrives in Reno, it is their kingdom. Muss is treated as the king of Nevada athletics. No matter the outcome of this season or if he decides to leave to pursue leading a Power 5 program, Muss will go down in this era of Reno history as the absolute ruler of the city.

 

Darion Strugs can be reached at dstrugs@sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter @dstrugs.

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