By Dustin Jayroe | Photos By Philip Thomas
Amidst a career that has taken her through virtually all of the country’s 50 states, Danyelle Musselman officially became a Razorback this year when her husband Eric Musselman was named the head men’s basketball coach at the University of Arkansas. While LA to NWA may lie outside the norm of traditional trajectories, for her, it was destiny.
“It was a blur,” Danyelle Musselman says of her family’s first days in Fayetteville after Eric was named head coach. “By the time we flew back, me and my daughter and my stepson were like, ‘What just happened?’”
But it was a culminated moment in time that placed her in Northwest Arkansas, one propelled by years-long dreams, ambitions and determination; a final domino following dozens that came before.
The first was the day she met Eric.
The then-Danyelle Sargent was in the middle of her tenure as a sports anchor for Fox Sports and was moderating a panel in Los Angeles on sports and media. What initially seemed little more than another day at the office quickly turned into something more akin to the plot of a romantic comedy. Eric Musselman was in the audience.
“After I’d finished speaking, I was down talking to some people and [Eric’s] friend was like, ‘Just go up and talk to her. I see you staring at her,’” Danyelle remembers. But according to her recollection of the events, the ball coach was wary, apprehensive to make a move, protesting that there were “too many people around.” Such bashful behavior might surprise Hog fans, as Coach Musselman is well-known for his fire and tenacity. Finally, his friend took matters into his own hands.
“I’m just going to go up and get her number for you,” Danyelle recalls him saying. “Then, he comes back to Eric and says, ‘You have no shot.’”
Afterward, as fate would have it, the two crossed paths again at a reception that followed the event.
“I remember giving him my phone number, just thinking he was really nice … Then he ended up saying, ‘Hey, do you want to come up and visit the Bay Area?’ About three days later, I went to hang out with him … And that was it. I think when you’re older, you just kind of know. We were both grown adults, and it was just instant; we have been together ever since. Over the past 11 years, there might be three days in which we haven’t talked every single day since the day we met.”
Danyelle and Eric Musselman would wed in September 2009.
For most, the rest would have been “history,” as the saying goes. For the Musselmans, it was anything but. Not in a pejorative sense — the two are embodiments of happily ever after, a model of love and affection. But they were about to become road warriors.
When they married, Eric was out of work, having just been let go as head coach of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. Danyelle was an anchor and reporter for Fox Sports, where she began working in 2006 after a two-year stint with ESPN. After she moved from LA to be with him, her two stepsons Michael and Matthew, and later their daughter Mariah, in the Bay Area, she flew back and forth to LA for work. But the itch crept back into Eric’s mind. He spent three years out of the arena. He had to get back to coaching.
In August of 2010, Eric was named head coach of the then-Reno Bighorns in Nevada, a professional basketball team that, at the time, was a member of the NBA’s Development League (D-League). Danyelle’s flights to and from work became LA to Reno.
The next year, Eric took the job as head coach of the then-Los Angeles D-Fenders, another D-League team. Danyelle had made some career moves of her own and was now an anchor for the NFL Network, still working out of LA.
“Finally, we were all in one place,” Danyelle remembers thinking. “[Our] daughter was 2 at the time.” But after just one year in the City of Angels, Eric was ready to step outside his comfort zone and into a realm of coaching that he had not yet experienced, telling Danyelle, “I think I want to try this college basketball thing.”
Up to that point, his coaching career was limited to semi-pro and professional leagues, progressing from his first gig at the now-defunct Rapid City Thrillers (where his father Bill also coached), to assistantships at the NBA’s Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies, and head coaching opportunities at the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings. In 2012, he got his wish, taking an assistant coaching job for the Arizona State Sun Devils. By 2014, he was named associate head coach at Louisiana State University.
“It was just a lot of moving,” Danyelle says. “I think I took my daughter’s crib apart and put it back together about seven times during the course of that.”
In the middle of these journeys, a realization struck Danyelle. She was no stranger to moving, having grown up outside of Atlanta, attending college at Florida State University, and then moving back to Georgia to begin her professional career which eventually led to stops such as Kansas City and LA. But now, something needed to give.
“I had been flying every single week for like four years, and my daughter started getting older,” she says. “It was insane. And thinking back, I don’t even know how we managed all of that.” She came to the conclusion that she needed to become a stay-at-home mom. “And so that’s what I did at that point.”
After one year in Baton Rouge, La., (eight months for the family), a familiar stomping ground came calling. Eric was named head coach of the University of Nevada men’s basketball team. It was back to Reno for the Musselmans.
From the summer of 2015 to the spring of this year, Reno was home, and not just in a metaphorical sense — it was the longest span the family had ever spent in the same place.
“We were really happy,” Danyelle remembers. “Eric had found a lot of success, and whenever we moved there, my daughter was just going into kindergarten. So it was the only real school that she had ever known and been in.”
But, as Danyelle recalls, it was understood that Eric aspired to coach at the highest level. It was always at the back of his mind, but only for the right situation. His success at Nevada meant he was no stranger to job offer calls, but he always turned them down, in part, because they were never a good balance between career progression and a fit for the family.
“But whenever Arkansas called, we were immediately intrigued,” Danyelle says. “We both are huge fans of the South; Eric had already coached in the SEC; I’m actually from Atlanta, so my family’s close; his sister lives in Dallas … It was just a spot where we could see ourselves living.”
But the April 2019 UA offer could not have come at a more chaotic moment. The pair were both in attendance at the Final Four of the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Eric had just led his Nevada Wolf Pack back to the tournament, where they lost to Florida in the first round. Danyelle had a speaking engagement lined up there.
“We weren’t even home where we could start preparing everything,” she says. Danyelle wanted to stay true to her prior engagements, and both of them wanted to tell a special someone about the news in person — that dad was going to be the head coach of the Razorbacks.
“I think it was a Friday night he was offered the job, Saturday I had my speaking engagement — we flew all day,” she says. “We got home at about 9 o’clock at night and told our daughter for the first time and then literally went down and started packing as much stuff as we could for Eric because we knew once he left he wasn’t going to come back.
“It was crazy. And then I remember the day that we flew, it was just a complete blur. We landed, we went immediately to [UA Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek’s] house, they met the team and then the next day was the press conference. And then somewhere in the midst of all that, I went out with a Realtor and looked at houses … It’s really, really crazy. Your life just changes so much in such an instant.”
Her journey to where she is today may appear as incongruous to outsiders with access only to the surface. When tracing back her footsteps along the path that led her to Fayetteville, it might be easy to predispose Arkansas as just another rung on her and her husband’s steep career ladders, joining the many that came before, and others that will surely follow. But this one is different; this stop is special.
Danyelle’s late father was from Magnolia, one of 13 siblings who grew up in the Natural State. The “Hog Call” to be a Razorback was always there. It’s been in her DNA her whole life; through all the career climbing, all the moving, Fayetteville was destined to become home.
“It’s so cool,” Danyelle says of officially becoming a Razorback. “It was funny because as soon as [Eric] got the job, and it was announced, my phone would not stop going off from my family … They were beyond excited. It’s almost surreal.”
But as she seamlessly transitions into Hog Country, a land where chants of “woo pig sooie” can be heard from the heights of the Boston Mountains to the depths of the Delta all year long, her life looks a lot different than it did whenever she first began this journey with Eric in 2009. No longer is she gracing the country’s television sets with her presence on major sports networks; she turned off that part of her life for her family, now a decade older. Her stepson Michael just turned 24 and is on the coaching staff with his dad at the UA. Matthew, her other stepson, is 19, in college, and she believes that he also might be on staff with Eric one day. Their daughter Mariah is nine now and loves being at the center of such an attention-getting family.
For Danyelle, Fayetteville is far from a retirement. Since stepping away from the media, she has used some of those same talents in different, yet meaningful ways. She continues to provide services as a public speaker and works with nonprofits such as the American Cancer Society and United Way Boys and Girls Clubs.
“It’s truly a blessing,” she says. “And it’s been able to fulfill me since I no longer get to do my broadcasting work.”
And while she may not be credited in the staff directory or sit courtside with the rest of the coaching staff, she is as important as any for the success of the Razorbacks.
Eric is a hard-nosed coach (a lot like his father), cut from an old school cloth of style. He is relentless, dedicated, resolute, stubborn. Danyelle is the blanket that comforts, and the glue that holds it all together.
“He’s not much of a sleeper. I feel like the police on keeping his health intact,” she says behind a laugh. “Whether it’s like, ‘Okay, we’re going to eat healthy.’ And I’m the one yelling at him, ‘Get off your iPad. You have to try to go to sleep.’ Cause otherwise he’ll be up until 3 o’clock in the morning and then he’ll wake up again at 5 o’clock with a thought that he needs to write down. That’s how our life is during the season. And I try to go on as many road trips as I can. He says that I help keep him calm whenever he’s on the road.”
And luckily for Eric, Danyelle is a sports fanatic in her own right. Whether it is film-watching preparation for the next opponent, or a film-recap of a game just played, she is always there as a soundboard, just like an assistant coach would be.
Then there is her role as team mom — or perhaps more accurately, team family — which has become one of their recruiting secret weapons.
“It starts off with just opening our doors,” she says. “If you want to come over, if you want a meal, if you want to just come to get away, to get out of your apartment, whatever it is … We’re the landing spot for everybody.
“When it comes down to it, they’re kids. If it’s a problem with a girl, we’re here. If it’s a problem with school, we want to be here … It’s just being available for those kids. And that’s what we sell whenever we’re recruiting [them]; we want parents to understand that. So you can feel like you’re sending your kids to a place where they’re not going to be out there alone … We want to be like grandma’s house.”
Through it all, the Musselman house is a home. It might be bigger than most — with 15 extra basketball children under its roof at any given time. It might be more renowned — with Danyelle and Eric each holding their own celebrity-esque statuses. But they are just as normal as any of us — with inclinations to turn off the stage lights, from time to time.
“I’m a homebody, actually — Eric and I both are,” Danyelle says. “It’s kind of funny because you see the outgoing sides of our personalities; I think people think that’s who we are all the time. But really, at the end of the day, both of us are just wanting to come home and put on Netflix. That genuinely makes me happy.”