Jeffrey Denberg

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Thursday, July 25
Updated: July 29, 2:08 PM ET
 
Musselman's first coaching lesson: Chill out

By Jeffrey Denberg
Special to ESPN.com

Eric Musselman is one of those coaching types who never knows when enough is enough.

Wound tighter than a baseball, Musselman is "on" 24 hours a day. There is not a motivational speech he hasn't read ... or delivered. There is not a play he hasn't used. Maybe twice.

Musselman wants so badly to win that he often wears out the men he works with and the players he tries to prod out of their fatigue or lethargy.

It is this fierce drive that made Musselman successful as a minor league coach and general manager, that caught the eye of Chuck Daly during his brief stay in Orlando, that put him in Atlanta after he worked another year as junior staffer under Doc Rivers, Daly's successor.

To whom do you compare Musselman, who will be introduced as the latest head coach of the Golden State Warriors on Friday afternoon? How about a young Mike Fratello? How about Muss' own father, the late Bill Musselman?

Eric Musselman
Musselman

The eight Warriors coaches who precede him since 1994-95 -- Don Nelson, Rick Adelman, P.J. Carlesimo, Garry St. Jean, Dave Cowens included -- were notoriously unsuccessful. It is Musselman's workaholic nature that will either enable him to turn around this franchise after eight straight losing seasons or extend the record of futility.

It all depends on whether he learns that there is a time to turn off, chill out, avoid confrontation and shut his mouth.

As the No. 2 assistant with the Hawks, Musselman was the spoon that stirred the pot -- not terribly difficult on a remarkably laidback staff. His grating voice was the loudest in the practice gym or on the sideline during games. Sometimes Muss did it for effect. Sometimes he couldn't help himself.

Sometimes his style was highly successful, most notably last December after the Hawks were trashed in Orlando by the Magic 124-94, losing star forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim to injury in the process.

An avid reader of the internet, Musselman printed and distributed anything motivational. This time, he created a hot-button issue the next night after the Magic's Tracy McGrady referred to the Hawks as one of the "cupcake" teams on the schedule. Muss distributed copies of the story, wrote "CUPCAKE" on the locker room chalkboard. He made certain every player had seen and heard about it the following evening when the Hawks and Magic played a return game in Philips Arena.

The depleted Hawks fell 16 points down early in the third quarter, recovered and beat the Magic 107-104. No one was happier than Musselman, who provided the needle that punctured the balloon of his old team.

His fellow assistants alternately admired and tolerated Musselman, top aide Gar Heard with a bemused look. Rick Mahorn was closer in age and temperament. When Mahorn was dropped from the staff, the Hawks had no inkling that Musselman would follow him out the door. When the Warriors asked permission to interview Musselman, the Hawks readily gave their consent. Vice president/general manager Pete Babcock was happy to give the 37-year-old a chance.

Musselman will set a standard for his young Warriors and his new staff. No one will work as hard as he does. No one will put in more hours. The larger question may be how Musselman deals with losing.

Now, the Hawks must almost certainly seek out another experienced assistant coach who has fire in his belly. Although players sometimes rolled their eyes at Musselman's speeches or ditched the sheaves of paper he left in their lockers on an almost daily basis, they responded often enough to show his value as an assistant coach.

And Musselman will set a standard for his young Warriors and his new staff. No one will work as hard as he does. No one will put in more hours. The larger question may be how Musselman deals with losing. The Warriors, coming off another losing season, will certainly lose more than their share, at least early on.

The record says he will find a way to be successful, even if he drives everybody a little crazy.

Musselman was a CBA general manager at age 24 after getting his first pro shot from his father, Bill, a CBA legend and the first head coach of the Timberwolves. He ranks as the No. 2 coach in CBA history with a record of 270-122 in seven years. For a season, Flip Saunders worked for him. He had a record of 54-3 in the USBL.

He resurrected the career of guard Wes Mathews, forming a bond with the former Hawks and Lakers player and getting to the CBA finals with him. He sent 24 players to the NBA from his CBA roster.

That appealed to Daly, who hired Musselman in Orlando and gave him a warm endorsement when the Warriors called.

"That's the part I really like about him, that he's been down coaching," Daly said recently. "Guys who do that learn a lot of hard lessons. I felt for a couple years that he was going to be approached by someone in the NBA. This would be a very interesting choice and could be a really good one."

In a letter sent to the Warriors that was obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle, Jim Jennings, former president of the USBL Florida Sharks, described Musselman as having "excellent motivational skills and endless energy."

Now, the question is whether Muss can avoid the mistake of micro-managing that cost his dad Bill and the bright Fratello their NBA jobs. Can he delegate authority and dampen his own fire as he runs the show?

If he does that, he can be successful. If not, he will go down in the ledger as the latest coach to fail with this struggling franchise.

Jeffrey Denberg, who covers the NBA for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.





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