Did Eric Musselman Cross The Line In Maui?
Musselman is building his resume as a controversial figure, and the list of outbursts leading to chaos and calamity grows.
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“A strong secure leader accepts blame and gives credit. A weak insecure leader gives blame and takes credit.” – John Wooden
Lahaina, HI – The Arkansas Razorbacks waged a victory over the SDSU Aztecs on November 23rd during the Maui Invitational consolation match that was nothing short of remarkable. The last five minutes of that game was a clinic on never giving up in the face of certain doom. It was also a strategically important game.
At this level, people won’t say, “it doesn’t matter if you win or lose.” That may be the case in club or intramural sports. But among the top NCAA teams: winning is the objective, and winning is critical.
Yet, winning must still be done the right way, and sportsmanship matters, even among the fiercest of rivals. The greatest sting comes from the victor whose grace must be admired by the defeated.
In the case of Wednesday’s game, neither victory nor the remarkable Arkansas comeback was the defining aspect of this amazing match.
The childish, unprofessional conduct of Razorbacks coach Eric Mussleman stole the spotlight. After the victory, Musselman could not simply savor a great win over stunned Aztecs and fans in attendance.
No. He went off the rails and screamed to opposing fans: “Go F*** Yourself!” Then, he made an “L” with his right thumb and index finger, placing it on his forehead- the universal adolescent symbol for “LOSER.”
Scuffle at the end of the SDSU-Arkansas game. From what I saw it was started by Arkansas players and their coaching staff pic.twitter.com/exXju3zFfh
— David (@Hormostay) November 24, 2022
In the moment, he stared at Aztec fans and marquee player Matt Bradley. Then, when Bradley allegedly suggested he “chill out,” he appeared to exchange inflammatory words that might not be reserved for a student-athlete. Bradley, a respected athlete and role model, was so upset he kicked a chair.
Musselman in those moments ignited the Aztecs and their fans like a pyromaniac at an unattended gas station, and a melee ensued. Reeling from the insult Musselman added to their crushing loss, some took it personally, making their way toward the court.
There has been speculation about banter going from fans to coach, but a coach who earns 25 times what most Arkansas faculty are paid is expected to be a role model and must rise above anything coming out of the peanut gallery. Engaging with fans is far below an SEC coach’s pay grade.
Musselman was moved out of the gym, but only after he had thoroughly stirred the pot. Then, some of his athletes started behaving a lot like him, notably Travon Brazile.
This article is not a call-out on Trevon Brazile, a talented young up-and-coming Razorback, who conducted himself in a manner just like his coach. Brazile took a moment to walk up to fans, flex, and make faces directly at them after Musselman was ushered off the floor. Brazile was then ushered out as well. This isn’t intended to criticize Brazile, but rather to carefully note that these young athletes are being imprinted by the actions of Musselman.
Notably, Brazile is a young college sophomore. The term “sophomore” has greek roots suggesting “wise man” and “foolish” all in one. In the end Brazile, like all sophomores, is a work in progress.
Musselman, on the other hand, is a fully-formed, middle-aged adult, who should have the benefit of experience and wisdom. He should know better, and as a head coach for an SEC program, he should know it is beyond the pale to engage with fans by broadcasting expletives and hand gestures.
Even if opposing fans taunted Musselman: it comes with the territory. He is paid to work in this environment, and fan banter should never affect him- especially when he is winning. The word “fan” derives from the term “fanatic.” On that basis, Musselman ought to be above engagement with emotionally charged sports fanatics, whom he is surrounded by constantly.
San Diego isn’t Brooklyn, St. Louis, or Compton. San Diegan’s are generally laid back, and normally very friendly people, who hail from one of America’s most beautiful and climactically ideal cities. That’s not to say San Diegan’s aren’t capable of being problematic, but it is not culturally their demeanor.
Musselman would like to put this embarrassing incident behind him, and he has quietly suppressed attention that has come about since the incident, and rightly so. It doesn’t show well and it could warrant NCAA investigation. His own actions nearly incited a riot that could have led to injury- and for what?
Arkansas won the game.
Later, in the post-game presser he sugar coated things, suggesting that the Aztecs did a “great job” despite his own impish exchange with San Diego State’s marquee athlete, both verbally and with sign language.
“San Diego State’s coaching staff, I thought, did an incredible job today,” Musselman said. “They controlled the game for most of the game. We did just enough to hang around. It’s not often that a game kind of has an NBA feel how it ended. But that’s how a lot of NBA games kind of end. You just keep talking to your team about hang around, hang around.”
“San Diego State’s a great basketball team. They’re going to have an incredible year.”
If Musselman offered up those words, after respectfully shaking hands and wishing the Aztecs well, you could sincerely say he was gracious. But he insulted SDSU players, fans, and indirectly through his actions: Brian Dutcher and his staff, who ARE a class act.
In addition to Musselman, young Brazile answered queries during the presser, responding with these comments about stripping the ball from Butler for Razorback possession:
“I mean… I didn’t know that the guy was going to give it up that easy. Those guys are old. I’m a little surprised he didn’t call timeout. He was in a bad situation. He was fumbling the ball. I’m surprised his coach didn’t call a timeout. We got the ball. Kamani made a big play, and we went from there.”
Lack of respect aside, Brazile could have a bright future, possibly in the NBA. A little diplomacy never hurts.
Sportsmanship fundamentals are important for young, up-and-coming athletes hoping to make a career in pro sports, and coaching matters.
Fans did not make their way to the court, with melees unfolding and arena security getting involved until Musselman regressed into a child before our very eyes, intentionally offending so many people.
There are simply no excuses for this kind of behavior. It isn’t the first time we’ve seen Musselman’s antics leading to chaos and calamity and, if Arkansas leaves well enough alone, it won’t be the last time they see an incident like the one that took place in Maui.
If the NCAA dismisses this type of behavior, the incident becomes precedent, making it tougher in the future to condemn similar moments where game integrity has been degraded by bad actors.