Joe Santoro: At Nevada it’s anything for you, Muss
March 24, 2017
Sports fodder for a Friday morning … Eric Musselman could sell a Burger King Whopper to Ronald McDonald, a bowl of Wheaties to Tony the Tiger and a pack of Duracell batteries to the Energizer Bunny. He'd find a way to convince Jim Harbaugh to wear an Ohio State sweatshirt and Chris Ault to move to Las Vegas. The man, after all, somehow got the lovely Danyelle Sargent to marry him and then sold a lifeless Wolf Pack basketball program to an apathetic community. Musselman did it again this week, squeezing a contract extension out of a program that supposedly has no money by using a job offer he never got for a job he didn't really want as leverage. And we all played along and helped. If you listened carefully this week, you could have heard Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" being played on the piano in the background. It was a masterful week for Musselman. Not a law was broken. And the beauty of it all is everybody — Musselman, his family, the university, Pack players, Pack fans, Pack media — is happy. The man is brilliant.
Why did Wolf Pack athletic director Doug Knuth give a contract extension to a coach that wasn't going anywhere? There has been no report Musselman was offered the California head coaching job or he even interviewed anywhere else. In fact, even if Musselman was offered the Cal job and accepted it, there was serious doubt Cal president Janet Napolitano would even approve the hire. Musselman, after all, hired former Cal assistant coach Yanni Hufnagel last year who was fired by Napolitano at Cal because of a sexual harassment complaint. (Hufnagel has since left Nevada). But Musselman flirted with Cal and Knuth started to panic. Knuth makes sure whatever Musselman wants, Musselman gets at Nevada. Five home games in the CBI? Done. Hire Hufnagel? Go right ahead. Charter flights on the road? Enjoy. Different uniform combinations for every day of the week? Go pick them out. Enough graduate assistants on the coaching staff to fill a study hall? You got it. Michael Buffer to announce the starting lineups? Awesome. Anything for you, Muss. Cal never had a chance to get Musselman.
The Cal coaching search has become a national joke. Musselman, Montana coach Travis DeCuire and Saint Mary's Randy Bennett all reportedly pulled out of the process. When a Montana, Saint Mary's and Nevada coach doesn't want to be the head coach at Cal, well, something stinks in Berkeley. Boosters and donors are about to set the Berkeley campus on fire. Nevada is simply a better job than Cal right now and is certainly run by better people. Thanks to Knuth, the Pack at least knows how to hire a coach or keep the one they have. Musselman, who has had enough awful jobs for four coaches' resumes, knows an awful job when he sees one, and he saw one in Berkeley. He's also smart enough to know he has a good thing going on in Reno. Cal was just his way of making it better. He has a good team in Nevada that might become great soon. And he has an athletic director that will give him anything he wants.
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It's easy to understand why Knuth is the president of the Musselman Fan Club. The Wolf Pack have won 52 games the past two seasons, bringing home a College Basketball Invitational title and Mountain West regular-season and tournament championships to Reno. The Pack also went to the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade, attracting a school-record 8,923 fans per game this winter. The thought of Musselman leaving Nevada no doubt had Knuth in a cold sweat and staring blankly at the ceiling every night. And he's not the only one. We've all become Musselman groupies, gazing starry-eyed at him and fainting whenever he graces our presence. Musselman Mania is the best thing to hit Reno since neon and buffets. If Knuth didn't give him a contract extension, Pack fans all over the region would have conducted bake sales and garage sales every weekend and sent the proceeds to the Musselman house.
Is this what Wolf Pack fans have to go through every year with Musselman? Is he always going to look for a new job every March and April and, if he doesn't leave, use his job search as leverage for a better deal in Reno? That will get old, especially if it becomes apparent the Pack is never going to be anything more than a bug on the windshield in the NCAA tournament. Mighty Muss now has to win and win big in Reno. But don't worry. The Pack will win big next year and Musselman will become one of the hottest coaches in the nation in the real world, instead of just in the minds of Pack fans. He will then likely interview for two or three jobs he actually wants instead of one nobody wants, just so he could make everyone in Reno love him more when he came back.
Wolf Pack fans are on the Cam Oliver carousel now. Will he go or will he stay? The junior-to-be forward is headed back to the NBA pre-draft process next month, according to a CBS report on Twitter on Thursday. Oliver then got on Twitter minutes later and reminded everyone he has made no statement regarding his "future endeavors." The early entry eligibility deadline is April 23 to enter the NBA's pre-draft workout circus. The early entry withdrawal deadline is June 12. In between those dates Pack fans can lay in bed in a cold sweat and stare at the ceiling all night. Oliver went through this process last year as a wet-behind-the-ears freshman so he'll likely do it again as a grizzled veteran sophomore. He'll likely get the same result, that he's a second-round pick at best and should head back to Nevada for another year. But there's really no reason not to go through the process. As long as he doesn't hire an agent, he can always come back to Nevada and help Musselman earn his new paycheck.
NFL owners will likely vote next week in Phoenix on the Oakland Raiders' proposed move to Las Vegas. All reports seem to point to the owners approving the move. And why not? Oakland is an awful place for a NFL franchise with an awful stadium. It was fine in the 1960s AFL and was OK in the 1970s NFL as long as the Raiders were winning Super Bowls. But those days are long gone. An amazing $1.9 billion dollar state of the art stadium awaits them in the desert. Free agents will fall all over themselves trying to get to Las Vegas. The southern Nevada location is great for the league's Phoenix and southern California teams. And can you imagine Super Bowls in Las Vegas? There's absolutely no reason for the league to vote against the move.
All of the conspiracy theories surrounding Colin Kaepernick are a bit premature. Yes, it's no secret there are NFL teams who want no part of his national anthem protests. But that's not the biggest reason why Kaepernick has yet to find a new team. It's just early in the process. It will take a while for Kaepernick to find the right fit. You just can't plug Kaepernick into any NFL offense. He has a specific skill set and needs an offense tailored to those skills. That's why it will be difficult for him to find a job as a backup. You can't run one type of offense for the starter and then an entirely different offense for Kaepernick. The anthem protests certainly don't help but it's the on-the-field issues that are hurting him more right now. His skills have leveled off. His passion for the game has seemed to disappear. And a team who's desperate to find a quarterback (San Francisco) didn't even want him. But if Kaepernick truly wants to continue his NFL career he'll find a job.
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