basketball Edit

After Nate Oats' raise, is Eric Musselman next?

Arkansas second-year head coach Eric Musselman.
Arkansas second-year head coach Eric Musselman. (Arkansas Athletics)

Head Coach Eric Musselman currently makes $2.5 million dollars a year on a heavily incentive-based first contract with the Razorbacks. In the latter part of year two, sitting at 17-5, Musselman is making a strong case to receive a raise. With the recent extension and raise of Alabama Coach Nate Oats, Musselman could likely be next.

Oats’ extension runs through 2027 and increases his salary to $3.225 million annually. His initial contract was for $2.45 million through 2024, but leading the Crimson Tide to first place in the SEC and a top-10 ranking made the school offer up more dough.

The trajectory of the Alabama program is impressive under Oats, but similar drastic improvements have taken place in Fayetteville in the year and a half Musselman has been at the helm.

Musselman has the Razorbacks ranked for the first time since the first week of 2018, in second place in the SEC, firmly in the NCAA Tournament field, and is 17-5 in his second year. If the standings hold it would be Arkansas’ highest regular season finish in the SEC since 2014-2015 and the first NCAA Tournament since 2017-2018.

At this point in the season, the Hogs are playing for seeding more than anything, with key matchups against Alabama and LSU coming up after beating a ranked Missouri team on the road and a Florida team projected to be a 7-seed in the NCAA Tournament. With the right seeding and the talent this team has, it is within the realm of possibility that this team makes the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1996.

Not only would that be an impressive and monumental feat, but it would also grant Musselman a $250,00 raise, bringing his base salary from $2.5 million to $2.75 million. Even with that, though, Musselman would remain in the bottom-tier of SEC coaches on the pay scale.

Musselman’s current contract has him tied with LSU’s Will Wade for lowest-paid coach in the SEC (Vanderbilt’s coaches’ salaries aren’t disclosed). The raise from making the Sweet Sixteen, if that happens, would only move Musselman to 11th in the SEC pay scale, ahead of Ben Howland ($2.55) and behind Mike White ($2.81).

1. John Calipari ($8.16M)
2. Rick Barnes ($4.70M)
3. Buzz Williams ($3.843M)
4. Bruce Pearl ($3.840M)
5.Nate Oats ($3.23M)
6.Tom Crean ($3.20M)
7. Frank Martin ($3.05M)
8. Cuonzo Martin ($2.90M)
9. Kermit Davis ($2.85M)
10. Mike White ($2.81M)
11.Ben Howland ($2.55M)
12. Will Wade ($2.50M
12. Eric Musselman ($2.50M)

The landscape of college basketball coaches’ salaries has completely shifted in recent years. In 2014, the $2.5 million Musselman makes now would be tied with Jay Wright (Villanova) and John Beilein (Michigan) for 12th highest paid coaches in the whole country, rather than tied 12th in the SEC alone. When he was hired in 2019, the $2.5 million mark was 45th in the country.

Comparable names in the 2019 hiring cycle in college basketball are: Mark Fox (Cal - $1.6), John Brannen (Cincinnati - $1.5), Juwan Howard (Michigan - $2), Fred Hoiberg (Nebraska - $2.5), Buzz Williams (Texas A&M - $3.83), Mick Cronin (UCLA - $5.5), and Mike Young (Virginia Tech - $2).

Looking closer at those salaries, the coaches who signed initial contracts for the same amount or more money than Musselman haven’t performed as well. Buzz Williams is 24-21 at Texas A&M, with a 12-14 mark in the SEC. Hoiberg is an abysmal 12-39 at Nebraska and 3-29 in the Big Ten. Mick Cronin is tracking a very similar record to Musselman at Arkansas, so far with a 34-17 record at UCLA but 15-5 this year. Cronin is 23-9 in the Pac-12 and has had the Bruins ranked for four weeks this year.

So far at Arkansas, Musselman is 37-17 with a 16-15 conference record. The Razorbacks are currently ranked 24th and projected on the 5/6 seed line in the NCAA Tournament.

Musselman is even exceeding every coach mentioned paid just less than he is except for Juwan Howard. Even with Nate Oats having Alabama ranked so high this year and playing so well, his debut was less impressive than Musselman’s. Oats led Alabama to a 16-15 record in year one, while Musselman led the Razorbacks to a 20-12 record and were just outside the NCAA Tournament discussion.

Eric Musselman clearly deserves a raise, and will most likely get one, but how much is the university willing to pay a coach a year and a half into his tenure?

It becomes a balancing act for program to pay coaches high enough salaries to retain them, but not too high where they can bite the bullet if the coach doesn’t pan out. One way to mitigate that is by incentive-based contracts, which Arkansas Athletics Director Hunter Yurachek seems to be a fan of.

Recently-hired football coach Sam Pittman had a heavily incentive-based contract, as does Musselman.

Musselman would receive a one-year extension and $100,000 for his first two NCAA Tournament appearances. He would also receive a $250,000 raise for his first Sweet Sixteen appearance, $350,000 for his first Final Four appearance, and $500,000 for a national championship. The tournament success raises are non-cumulative.

Even with the incentive-based contract, it is inevitable that Musselman gets an increase to his base salary. I would not be surprised to see it in the $3.5 million range, placing him firmly in 5th in the SEC and put him in the top-15 or top-20 nationally. That number is subject to increase depending on the success down the stretch this season.

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