RENO, Nev. (AP) — Eric Musselman watched and learned as his father, Bill, coached nearly every level of basketball imaginable. He’s been a coach at the highest levels of the sport, too, including stints as the head man for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors.
But when Musselman decided to become a Division I head coach, he didn’t just jump right in. There was too much to learn, too many subtleties he knew he didn’t understand, so he spent three seasons as an assistant coach at Arizona State and LSU.
The decision made the transition much easier when he became Nevada’s next coach.
“If I would have been fortunate enough to get a head job at the collegiate level prior to being an assistant, it would be too much of an adjustment,” Musselman said. “I had to sit and watch for three years and I needed it. I don’t know how somebody could do it without the experience.”
As Musselman quickly learned, the view from atop a program is much more complicated and filled with more pressure than as an assistant.
Musselman’s crash course began March 24, when he interviewed with Nevada officials at a hotel in Reno, picked up a rental car and drove to his home in Danville, California, to visit his son.
The next day, his phone rang. Musselman had the job. A whirlwind ensued.
The first calls were to family, letting them know he had the job. He set up flights so his mother, wife and daughter could attend the news conference. Next, Musselman called and texted everyone he knew at LSU, including head coach Johnny Jones, fellow assistants, athletic department officials and players to let them know he was leaving and thanking them for the opportunity.
“The first thing you do, all the people who helped you get the job, you’ve got to reach out to,” Musselman said. “You’ve got to close all the loose ends where you just came from.”
Then it was time to open new doors.
Not long after getting the job, Musselman made the quick turnaround back to Reno for his introductory news conference. There, he spoke to reporters, met alumni, boosters, members of the athletic department, school administrators and players on the current team, laying the groundwork for relationships that will build over time.
Once the dust settled, the real work began.
The problem is, where to start? Musselman started new jobs when he was in the NBA, but being a head coach at a Division I program was about like trying to catch silly string and pull it all in the same direction.
To figure out what to tackle first, Musselman asked new director of basketball operations Anthony Ruta — a former graduate assistant while he was at Arizona State — to head to his house in Danville to start mapping out their program-building strategy.
Ruta, who spent last season as an assistant coach with the NBADL’s Fort Wayne Mad Ants, was on a plane within two hours and started covering Musselman’s home with poster boards, the blueprints for their 60-day plan.
From there, it was like an attack on several fronts: Hiring staff, reaching out to current and new recruits, watching film to evaluate the team, figuring out the final pieces of a schedule puzzle that wasn’t complete.
Musselman began calling mentors and colleagues, basketball veterans like Mike Fratello, Lon Kruger and Buzz Williams to ask their advice.
“I’m reaching out to people I respect, trying to pick their brains,” Musselman said.
Some things Musselman still had to experience himself.
The hiring process was one.
Get hired in the NBA, the job is yours once you sign the contract. Land a college job, a Board of Regents will weigh the pros and cons of your contract — as you sit in the room listening.
With a limited number of coaches with enough experience, the process of hiring assistants in the NBA was relatively simple.
Division I basketball has over 300 teams, so the hiring pool is much deeper and the calls from people wanting jobs — from close friends to random coaches — came like they were on speed dial.
“I was blown away and humbled by the number of people who were either out of work and looking to get back in or just the people who want to move to what they believe is a better position,” Musselman said.
The issue of scheduling was also an eye-opener.
He had the basics down after serving as an assistant. Doing it as the head coach brought a litany of new considerations: Travel logistics, days off between games, what type of team should his team face, paying for a game or getting paid to play somewhere else.
“The struggle of building a schedule is bigger and more monumental than what people would think because it’s easy as an assistant to throw out, ‘Yeah, let’s go play this game,'” Musselman said. “As the head coach, you sit there and think about the difficulties that come with it.”
Keeping up with it all has been difficult, even for a 50-year-old who has been involved with basketball since before he could walk.
Musselman’s wife, Danyelle, stayed in Baton Rouge so 5-year-old Mariah could finish school, leaving him to live alone in a hotel.
Not that he’s there that often.
Since being hired, Musselman has spent nearly as much time on the road as home, a seemingly endless string of packing bags, checking in and out of hotels.
Because of his vagabond life and long days — sometimes he and the coaches work until midnight — Musselman washes his clothes at the Lawlor Events Center and hangs them up to dry in his car instead of taking everything to the laundry.
“I’ve lived out of a suitcase and a hotel before, but like three weeks; not like this, which is going to end up being a two-month residency,” Musselman said.
The residency is finally about to end.
Musselman and his wife have found a house in Reno and are going through closing. The staff is in place and has been working on the current team while building the program for the future. Recruits have started visiting and the basketball offices are shaping up, though Musselman still has stacks of Wolf Pack gear on the tables in his office.
But with the end of one phase comes another: The frenetic recruiting period that starts in July.
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