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Clay Henry

CLAY HENRY: Priority for Yurachek finding new basketball coach is very clear

When the Razorbacks can stop the other team they tend to win more games, which is priority now with Eric Musselman gone.



It’s not a huge mystery as to what happened to this Arkansas basketball team. Eric Musselman’s first losing season as a college head coach had one major problem.

This bunch of Razorbacks could not guard. That’s how you get a 16-17 record, 6-12 in the SEC.

With Musselman headed to Southern Cal, Hunter Yurachek’s task is to find a coach who knows how to teach defense.

The style isn’t so important. I don’t want to pick between Nolan Richardson’s defensive theories or what Eddie Sutton taught. Both coached championship defense.

Musselman did until this year. And, then he didn’t.

We can have a debate on whether it was the players or the coaching, but the smooth truth is that this bunch of players beat Purdue and Duke before Christmas. There was some talent.

And if the players lacked something, Musselman picked them.

So the task for Yurachek, the athletic director who found Muss, is to find a coach who can evaluate talent in the portal, plus develop a nice pool of talent from Arkansas. That didn’t happen at Arkansas in the last 12 months.

Good Arkansas kids are now gone from the Arkansas program. That should have never happened. If they couldn’t play defense at an elite level, they never should have been recruited. That’s evaluation.

Oh, we all like to draw a new play or pick the lineup that will produce more offense. Yes, you have to score points to win basketball games.

But it’s when you can defend that the victories start to pile up and Joe Lunardi finds your team a higher line in his mock seeding list for the NCAA tournament.

First and foremost, Musselman is a defensive guru. But you need toughness and ability to play defense to make the magic happen.

Since Musselman is a defensive guy, the inability for the 2023-24 Hogs to stop a straight line drive to the basket had to make him wake up in the middle of the night and say a bad word.

All of those gnashing of teeth among fans about what happened to this team – and most cited rumors of chemistry problems – amazed me all season long. The problem was staring them in the face all year and they didn’t see it.

These Hogs could not guard – or were not taught proper guarding principles.


Dane Bradshaw, the best of the SEC television analysts, hit on another issue during the Ole Miss-Texas A&M game in the SEC tournament. Yes, the SEC has better shooting teams this season. There are more 3-point shooters on most teams.

That’s going to help the point totals, but that’s not really what got the Hogs in trouble night after night.

They could not stop the opposition from driving the ball to the rim. You did not have to be great shooters to torch the Hogs.

Layups and dunks haunted them all season. That’s why everyone shot so well against these Hogs.

That can be poor coaching or not understanding the scouting report. But it’s also lack of defensive talent and toughness.

Yes, you can recruit toughness. I’ve listened to Nolan talk about the toughness factor when he evaluates talent. When he provided the scouting report on a new recruit, it always started with toughness.

Brad Dunn, who was one of Nolan’s recruiters, told me his boss wanted to know about toughness every time he came back from a trip to watch summer camps. If they lacked toughness, Dunn said he just skipped that player. He was not a fit for Nolan.

That’s what Nolan liked about all of those scorpion defenders on the 1994 title team. When he talked about guards like Corey Beck and Clint McDaniel and forwards Dwight Stewart and Corliss Williamson, toughness was mentioned first.

Nolan’s most repeated line about Beck and McDaniel to me even before they laced up a sneaker for the Hogs: “They’ll eat you up on defense and they are tough as nails.”

It starts and ends there with me. Yes, almost everyone on that 1994 team could hit a 3-pointer. But defense was the calling card for that team.

It was for Musselman until this year so I’m not surprised he has exited. It may be that he exited long ago and that would explain the lack of defense for this year’s team, as well as defensive talent and toughness.

Scotty Thurman wasn’t great as a man-to-man defender because he lacked lateral quickness, but his long arms would deflect passes in the seams and his basketball IQ was high enough that he anticipated those passes easy to touch. Also, he knew McDaniel and Beck would force the guards into off-line passes.

The 2023-24 Hogs never did that. Turnovers equal extra possessions. If they are live-ball turnovers, they are probably layups or open 3-pointers at the other end. Shooting percentages go up.

It’s the easiest points in the game. They inflate your offense and don’t require drawing up a play. But they are defensive plays.

The essence of coaching is how hard a team plays. Do they play tough?


If tough play happens only in spurts, that reflects on the coaching. And the question I kept asking: did the players quit on the coach or vice versa. If it was the coach, it’s a terrible indictment.

I’ve got a feeling Musselman convinced Southern Cal leaders that it was not him. I’ve heard arguments the other way in the last few weeks.

The strange thing is that I did see great coaching in the victories over Purdue and Duke. The Hogs attacked two great centers and got them in immediate foul trouble.

That was great strategy by Musselman  — and great execution by his players. They  attacked Zack Edey and Kyle Filipowski in the early seconds of the games. I’m guessing that it was a great coaching point for the Purdue and Duke staffs going forward.

The Hogs did not get that sort of massive help – poor decisions by post players — the rest of the year. The best teams in the SEC torched them with their centers and power forwards and the Hogs did not force turnovers like Musselman’s teams did the previous four seasons.

All they did was try to block shots and that led to offensive rebounds and stick backs for the opposition.

The data in conference play confirms that the 2024 Hogs could not defend.

The Hogs allowed 83 or more points nine times this season. That’s more than the previous three teams combined.

Turnovers forced and field goal percentage allowed paints the story on defensive slippage this season. That’s illustrated on the next table from the Arkansas stat pages, a perfect highlight on SEC defensive numbers and the SEC record:

2020: 7-11 SEC, .456 FG%, 76.1 pts, 14.4 TO.

2021: 13-4 SEC, .434 FG%, 74.3 pts, 15.6 TO

2022: 13-5 SEC, .397 FG%, 67.1 pts, 15.6 TO

2023: 8-10 SEC, .420 FG%, 70.8 pts, 11.9 TO

2024: 6-12 SEC, .451 FG%, 81.9 pts, 10.9 TO

None of this is news to Musselman. He knew all year that the Hogs couldn’t stop the dribble drive. He toyed with the lineup to get that fixed, with nothing to be found.


I sort of understand what happened. Last year’s team had defensive answers aplenty, but lacked ability to shoot. Musselman tried to fix that, perhaps with the thought he’s always been able to teach defense.

That isn’t so easy. Lateral quickness is a requirement to play defense, as is toughness.

I don’t fret about the future. The answers are out there in the portal for the new coach and high school hoops is good in our state. But, evaluation must include toughness and the desire to play defense.

Of course, the new coach needs some help. The rumor has been there all year that Muss wanted much more money for the Name Image and Likeness pool to get all the right parts. He blamed the shortcomings on talent on funding.

You never heard that publicly, but that leaked in a hurry. You can read that on any Arkansas message board. Muss didn’t have a big enough NIL fund. That had to come from him.

An old timer once told me about a young assistant that was interviewing for an Arkansas position. They had worked together in the NFL. He said, “You don’t want him. He blames the players.”

Another veteran coach who had worked early in his career for Bear Bryant heard a staffer complain about a player’s execution and effort or there had been too many injuries. Bryant said, “Poor workers find fault with their tools.”

In other words, coach up what you’ve got. Make sure you are giving them maximum effort in your coaching and you will get that back.

So I don’t like that as an excuse. I never thought Nolan bought players when others did and he never got all the ones he sought. When his teams beat Arizona and Duke in the 1994 Final Four there was as much or more talent on the other benches.

But I know which team was tougher. That’s the job the next coach faces in the next month; make sure that his new team features toughness and desire to play defense. If that goal is achieved, the Hogs will be back in the NCAA tournament.

Defense wins. And if you can’t get a stop, no amount of great shooting talent will help.

One last thought on the new coach, he must be a popular hire to be successful. The new world of college athletics requires NIL funding.

If your coach is not popular with the fan base, NIL fund raising is tough. You need the heavy hitters, but it takes everyone to make it happen.

Musselman did not appeal to the fan base enough to make them all want to write a check. It was a small group that did the bulk of the check writing for hoops.

There must have been something that kept others from writing even a small check with hoops in mind.


Did they see something in Musselman besides defense that wasn’t attractive? Perhaps.

That’s the other thing Yurachek must fix, but finding a coach who can coach defense is first.