Arkansas head basketball coach Eric Musselman joins Jim Cavale on this episode of IWYJ, to talk about his highly decorated basketball career and the strategies he plans to use in further building the Arkansas basketball program. Along with Coach Musselman, Arkansas Assistant AD for Brand Development Taylor McGillis shares his background in college sports, digital, and his insights on social media in modern college athletic departments.
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Highlights from the interview:
3:36 – Eric talks about his earliest days in basketball, and the impact his father’s career had on his own playing
5:50 – Eric shares experiences from his early jobs selling tickets for the Los Angeles Clippers, scouting games in the region, and eventually pursuing an opportunity as general manager for a Continental Basketball Association (CBA) team
8:48 – After a staff departure, Eric takes on the role of head coach at 24 years old and succeeds by recruiting well-coached players (including three Bobby Knight-era players from Indiana) who could be self-led as Eric continued to develop his skills as a coach
13:48 – Eric talks about his “expertise” in branding and the lessons he picked up on from his father, even at an early age, and how those lessons continue to play an active role in Eric’s marketing ideas
24:13 – The leap of faith taken by Eric and his family to pursue a coaching job in college basketball after tenure as a head coach at the pro level
26:20 – Eric shares lessons learned from mentors and colleagues from over the course of his career: Chuck Daly, Doc Rivers, Hubie Brown, Mike Fratello, Lon Kruger, Jerry West, Pat Williams, Stan Kasten.
31:14 – Athletes mentored: Jeremy Lin, Danny Green, Gerald Green,
“With all those guys, really the biggest thing was confidence. Like, how could you build a guy up for him to be Superman, and think that he could conquer anything?”
33:28 – Eric talks about some of his biggest successes as head coach at the University of Nevada, and the strategies behind taking Nevada’s program to a nationally competitive level
41:15 – Eric talks about his key focuses in building Arkansas’ basketball program: recruiting, brand, style, identity, fan base, winning
48:40- Taylor shares how his memories of attending college games as a kid and playing Div II baseball in college helped guide his decision to pursue a career in college athletics
50:35- Taylor explains what it’s like to be Assistant Athletic Director for branding for a school with a big brand, along with his vision for the brand as they proceed further into the digital age
56:49- Taylor talks about major takeaways from his time working at Saint Leo and the University of Miami
1:00:02- “I think we’ve started to look at our department as not just the executers of ideas, but actually the problem solving through creative solutions.”
1:01:40- “As social media continues to evolve, access is the most important thing. What can we do with our access that others cannot? How can we show what it’s like to be a student athlete? How can we show what it’s like to be apart of this community to make our fans and make potential recruits want to be apart of it?”- McGillis
1:03:36 – McGillis shares how they put Arkansas student-athletes on a private jet and fly them across the country to pick up their new coach
1:05:10 – “Show monetary results from what we’re doing on digital and people will have buy-in immediately.”
1:07:17 – Taylor’s outlook on Coach Musselman- how Musselman will provide access for social media and how McGillis will leverage the opportunity
1:10:24 – “Finding kind of a unique skill set to carve out for yourself is really valuable.” -Taylor’s advice to young digital professionals starting off in the industry
More episodes of the “I Want Your Job” podcast to be announced soon! Stay tuned, and subscribe to be one of the first to get updates about this new podcast.
Full Episode Transcript
Jim Cavale: Welcome to another episode of I Want Your Job. I’m Jim Cavale, the founder and CEO of INFLCR and your host for this episode, Episode 9 featuring Eric Musselman, the head basketball coach at the University of Arkansas. And I’m going to tell you what, this guy is as down to earth as any head coach I’ve ever interviewed, especially a Power Five head basketball coach.
His story is just incredible, how he went from a walk on basketball player to an NBA head coach, and then went into a whole different direction before getting to college basketball, where he’s become a head coach with a lot of success at Nevada, where he’s most known for his success, and now taking over for the Razorbacks. So you’re going to hear his whole story, understand his philosophy as a head coach, as a leader. And I think you’ll be very inspired by this interview, to say the least.
I want to thank everybody at INFLCR for the work they do to put together these episodes with guys like coach Musselman and some of the other guests you’ve heard, athletic directors, media executive, athletes, who are sharing their stories and giving you a roadmap to success that they’ve experienced so that you can take from it and apply it to your journey every day as you work in the sports world—college, pro, or whatever you might do for a living in your career.
I want to let you know we have a bonus coming in this episode as well. Taylor McGillis, who runs digital media, the associate athletic director for digital at Arkansas is going to tell a little bit of his story and share the formula behind Arkansas’ digital and social media strategy. So that’ll also follow coach Musselman’s interview. But let’s get started with the new head basketball coach for the University of Arkansas, is going into his first season there here in 2019-20, Eric Musselman.
So, Coach, we’re sitting here in your new office, new team, new brand, but same you. You have a story of developing players, of being the teacher of teachers as a basketball coach. And that’s where I want to start in this interview. I want to start back at the beginning for you as you’re playing college basketball at San Diego. Your father is a legendary NBA coach. Talk about what it was like being the son of an NBA coach and going and playing college ball.
Eric Musselman: I’ll even start, Jim, first of all, thanks so much for having me on. But I’ll start even before that, like when most kids are waking up in the morning, and they’re getting their cereal, and they’re watching cartoons. I was watching game film on the reel to reel.
How old are we talking?
I’m talking since I can remember. You know, even in grade school, third grade, I remember going to school, coming home from school begging my mom to take me to Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota’s campus, going to practice, watching practice, then practice ending me shooting shots on Williams Arena floor while my dad met with the staff and then sometimes not getting home till 10 o’clock at night. And then it’d start over the next day. And I can remember going on road trips to those Big Ten arenas.
And so, so being a ball boy at a really young age, you know, what… when my dad went to San Diego to coach the ABA team and left the University of Minnesota, I was a ball boy. And so, for me basketball has… that’s my hobby. That’s my life. That’s what I love. But… but playing at the University of San Diego was easy compared to playing high school basketball when your dad was coaching a floundering Cleveland Cavaliers team, that’s not easy. When, when hot dogs are getting thrown at you when you’re introduced for the starting five of a high school basketball game.
So, I was under a spotlight at a really young age, not because of me, but because of my dad and what his job was. So it taught me a lot of lessons at a really, really young age. And then college basketball, when I went there because I didn’t play a lot of minutes, it was really easy for me. It was a cakewalk. Because there was no “Who’s your dad?” or anything like that.
San Diego is not a bad place either.
Pretty nice place to go to college and pretty nice place to live as well. So my four years as a college basketball player were awesome. I played for two different coaches, Jim Brovelli and Hank Egan. And, and I talk to our team all the time about when I go to apply for a job even as a 50-year-old man, two people that I want a future employer to call is please call my two college coaches. And so, that’s important. It’s been really impactful to me. Coaching student athletes now I always think like, is this guy going to want me to call for him if he goes for a job when he’s 55 years old. Because I know when I need somebody to reference me, I certainly go to my two go-tos—Coach Egan and Coach Brovelli.
That’s amazing. And that says a lot that you still have that relationship these years later. You are a part of the best team in the history of USD. Go to the March Madness tournament, which you’ve been in several times now as a coach to. Lose to Auburn, you probably get a chance to get them back for that here in the SEC now, right, I don’t know if you’ve thought of that, but…
So, so when you get done, you take the CBA route. Now, first of all, for our listeners, talk about what the Continental Basketball Association was, and related to maybe the G League or whatever you would relate it to today, but also talk about why you chose that as your route as a coach. I know you played there a little bit too first.
Yeah. So it’s interesting. My first job out of college, I sold tickets for the Los Angeles Clippers. And at that time, that was not an easy sell at all. It was lottery after lottery. Ownership was not really liked in the Los Angeles area. But I did do a good job selling tickets. And within a month and a half, I got a job as an assistant player, personnel director where I was able, even as a guy just, just out of college where I could go scout local games—UCLA, USC, Santa Barbara. So I kind of got my feet wet doing that.
But then I wanted to do something more. And so, I got an opportunity. The door was only open because of my father, strictly because of my dad’s relationship with an owner in Rapid City, South Dakota, where I could become the general manager of a CBA team. And the CBA at that time was what the G League was. It was the Minor League of basketball, but it was a poor man’s or a homeless G League…
…because there was no affiliation. It was owned, we actually…
There were no two-way contracts.
There was no two-way contracts. We were actually owned by 42 different business leaders in the Rapid City, South Dakota area. And so, the, the first hire…
Oh, I want to… I want to tell the listeners, before you go to that first hire, you’re sitting there at how old?
I was 24 years old.
You’re 23 years old, 24 years old, and I want you to you to tell them who the first hire was. But you were a week in?
You were seven days in as a GM.
At 23, 24 years old. All right keep going. Sorry.
So the first thing that I had to do is, you know, I called my dad for advice. He said, “You better hire someone that you trust, and that you can work with.” And Flip Saunders was, was an assistant coach at the University of Tulsa, really, really young, but he had played for my father at the University of Minnesota. And that was the guy that when I was growing up, I wanted to shoot my jump shot like Flip. I wanted to walk like him. I wanted to talk like Flip.
And so, I called Flip. I was actually still in L.A. and Flip came and slept on my floor of a two-bedroom apartment and I had a roommate from San Diego who was working for FedEx at the time. And Flip slept on my floor until I hired him. Because I was getting hit with a lot of NBA assistant coaches that had been out of work that wanted the job because there wasn’t as many jobs then as there are now. Went with Flip, and we had a great year. We turned the team that was, I think, 18 and 36 to 36 and 18. We flipped the record. Made a lot of trades early on the first couple of weeks on the job. At the time USA picked up the amount of trades and the… with the way that we flipped the roster. And then Coach Sanders ended up going to take a head coaching job in lacrosse.
And there I was as 24-year-old without a coach now one year into this thing because he had gotten more money with lacrosse and our ownership wanted me to, to take over the job as the head coach. And eventually, the league said that they were going to fine our team because I was still looking for a coach. I was scared. I didn’t know if I could do the job at that age.
And a couple weeks before the season, I was named head coach. And then I had to make a decision on what our roster would be like. And again, reached out to my dad, and he said, “You need to get as many players that have been well coached as you can, because you don’t know what you’re doing at your age.” And so, I had like three guys from the University of Indiana that played for Coach Bobby Knight. And that was kind of the start of… that was one of our best teams. It was one of my best records ever.
And I really didn’t know what I was doing. But what I had was really disciplined players and guys that had been well coached. And it was a big-time learning lesson that it’s not about the X’s and O’s because I knew then about one-one hundredth of what I know now, and… but I had really good players that knew how to execute and could kind of self-coach. And so, that’s one of the things we talked to our teams all the time about is you got to be internally-led, you have to be a self-coached team and a player-coached team to be really successful.
Yeah, when they’re on the floor, there’s only so much you can do. To have a floor general, it’s huge.
And it’s funny, I was studying up on you and I saw one of those players as I’m a Syracuse New Yorker, he broke my heart. He’s smart. Oh, man, good player though.
Great player, great leader. And really what coaching is all about is… so Keith finishes his playing career and then I get the job at Golden State with the Warriors and one of my first hires is Keith Smart.
Because I wanted somebody in that locker room to be able to say, “Hey, I’ve played for him. I know what it’s like. This is the message he’s trying to get across.”
And then, obviously, Keith goes on and gets a head NBA job himself, but, but a great story on a guy that really wasn’t a great player, but had great leadership as a player. And he was so valuable in the locker room, more valuable in the locker room than he was between the lines.
Amazing. So, yeah, let’s, let’s fast forward. So you… before we go to the NBA, because you got some great opportunities in the NBA, including, as you mentioned, becoming the head coach for the Golden State Warriors.
The CBA, I feel like it’s got the same thing about it that like I played Division II baseball, right. It’s like that Journeyman Warrior kind of like mentality that you get from being there. I’m sure you took something from traveling on those buses, going to those cities with you before you go to Orlando, Golden State, some of the places you’ve been since.
Yeah, I mean, it wasn’t really like you carry a chip on your shoulder having been there. You got a crack on your shoulder. And I really mean that because it’s like, nobody understands like how hard that was. I mean, we would have wake up calls at 4:00 in the morning. We would travel, play the day of the game, and have two stops sometimes. So that the CBA was a… you… I will always appreciate life.
It was interesting when I tried to get in the college game, athletic directors would always say, “Well, well, you’re used to the NBA life and staying at Ritz Carlton’s and flying charter and eating steak on the charter plane. I’m like, “No. Hey, wait a second. You don’t understand. I spent more time on that bus going from Rockford, Illinois, you know, to Des Moines, Iowa.” Like, that’s where I spent most of my time and staying at a days in and sometimes having to trainer stay in the same room I stayed in…
…because we were trying to save finances on our travel budget. So… but, yeah, I… to this day, I still think about all the stories and all the camaraderie that you had not only just in the CBA but then in the summers I loved coaching so much, I coached in the USBL which was a pro summer league that was… if you call the CBA, Triple-A, this was like Single-A rookie ball. The way that we traveled in the USBL, but… but I would do the 50-game CBA season. And then the playoffs, which could be 15, 16, 18 games, whatever it could be, depending on how far you advanced and then right away turn around and do USBL 30 games. So I was doing an 80-plus game season at… even at a really, really young age.
So another thing that I want to note from this segment, you know, from college before the NBA is sales and marketing and even recruiting of players or coaches is a lot harder at that level. And even with the Clippers, based on where they were when you worked for the Clippers, you know, competing with the Lakers in L.A., what did you take from that part of your career from just an understanding of branding, sales and marketing? Because obviously, I’ve seen you apply it more recently with your head coaching roles.
It’s really interesting, you know, the last four years, I’ve had about, I’m going to rough… roughly estimate 12 to 13 big-time powerful Division I, Power Five coaches, some in different sports that have asked me questions about branding, which has been kind of flattering. But it started at the University of Minnesota.
When I was young, my dad would have his trunk full of Golden Gopher basketball shirts. And if we walked into a McDonald’s, he would have 20 shirts that he would carry in, and he just pass them out. And he felt like, I can hear it to this day, 1972, we’re walking into a McDonald’s and he would say… I’d say, “Dad, why are you doing that? It’s embarrassing.” And he would say, “They’re human walking billboards. Every time I want to walk… when I drive by an outdoor basketball court in St. Paul, Minnesota, I want to see some of these shirts being worn when we drive by those courts that we’re passing out.”
And so, he literally, his marketing, he was so far ahead of his time. It’s interesting because it’s on YouTube, but he had a pregame warm up even at Ashland College that was Globetrotter-Esque with music and the number of dance team members that he had at the University of Minnesota, he increased that because he felt it was more… it was like a, it wasn’t just a basketball game to him. Even at Big Ten, it was about, how do you make the game experience more than basketball?
And then I think, you know, when his career went into the ABA, it was the same thing. The ABA used a different ball just to try to mark it and be different than the NBA.
So all these lessons at a young age as I’m growing up, I’m hearing about, “Well, the ABA has got a three-point line in the NBA doesn’t because they want to draw fans and there’s a red, white and blue ball in the ABA because the NBA ball is the normal color just like high school.
So I think all those lessons just kind of stuck in my head that, you know, it’s way more than the game. And then… and then turns into when it’s your own team or your own program, it’s like, how do you let people inside behind the curtain instead of being scared. I was one of the first NBA coaches that allowed the microphone in at halftime of a national TV game.
And really, by doing that, Jim, I got blasted by some NBA head coaches because it hadn’t really been done. They had kind of kept the microphones away from the huddles and kept them away from halftime speeches. And I thought it was just a way to make our program, you know, open up the curtain, let people see who we are as a… as a team. And we’ve certainly carried that on at the college level.
Yeah, now every NBA coach is miked up all the time. You should get a patent on that.
Coach Pops still hates it too.
Right. Hey, speaking of Coach Pop, so you go to Golden State. And you have an amazing season. You finished second to Coach Pop for Coach of the Year the NBA. I mean, when you’re on those buses going through some of the journeys you went through in the CBA, could you ever imagine given the opportunity to be the head coach in a market like Golden State and having a season like that? I mean, obviously, there’s a journey to get there. And we’ve skipped over some things, but that’s a big opportunity and a big accomplishment.
Yeah, well, you know, I was too young, probably, to be honest. I, you know, I look at whether it’s an NFL coach, a Major League Baseball coach, an NBA coach when they’re really young, I just didn’t appreciate even though I had really paid my dues and rode a lot of buses and worked for some great coaches like Chuck Daly and Doc Rivers and Lon Kruger, and Mike Fratello, even though I had worked for so many great coaches, when you keep climbing the ladder, you don’t understand, like, hey, this just doesn’t happen.
And so, as a guy that hadn’t even been 40 years old, you know, to be not only Golden State, but also Sacramento, to be a head… I was too young. I didn’t appreciate it enough.
Now, every day coming to work, like, I appreciate being a head coach of a program. So, it was a great learning lesson for me, you know, because then you get fired and then all of a sudden it’s… so now you got to start back over from…
And quick, quick. You have one really good season. You have a second season. Chris Mullin comes in, wants to change things around, you move on. And I’m sure that that’s something that you got to see a lot in basketball, sports, coaching, can be turned over asked, but, I mean, how did you deal with that emotion?
You know, the Golden State situation was hard, because, you know, like you mentioned, 24 months before I was… I was runner up to Coach of the Year. And what they did is they gutted the team so that the following year, after I had gotten fired, they would have a lot of cap space. And Chris Mullin was just kind of coming up and he was assistant GM, working his way up to the GM. Everybody in the organization, everybody in the Bay Area knew that he was eventually going to be the GM, and obviously, anytime you in pro sports, when there’s management change, coaching change is going to follow very, very quickly.
So I knew what was going to happen. But it was hard because I felt like, especially that first year, we were really building something that could be really, really special. But it is how the coaching profession is and interesting because both my sons went to high school throughout their Bay Area and even as recent as last summer, like when I go back to see my son play a high school game, and I wake up the next morning, and I go work out in the Bay Area, I have no problem wearing Warrior stuff. Like my experience there was good. I love the fans of Golden State.
Now, the Sacramento experience was the exact opposite. I’m not going to go to a Kings game and I’m not going to walk around Sacramento in Kings gear.
Yeah, yeah. And I think, I think for, for people listening, no matter what they’re doing in their career, reality is, is we, we don’t choose a lot of things that happen especially the ones we don’t want to happen at the time, right. Like there’s things that happen in our lives that, you know, when it’s happening, we’re like, “Why is this happening to me?” But when you look back on it, you see a path that led you in a direction you might not have gone if some of those things didn’t happen.
And for you, you ended up going on a journey where you get out of head coaching in the NBA. You kind of go back to where you were, but it’s not the CBA anymore. And you go on this journey back into head coaching but in college ball. And so, kind of take us through that story, because it’s not a linear path. It’s a nonlinear, zigzag line. But it’s a pretty unique story.
So when Sacramento Kings fired me, I had just recently gone through a divorce. And when I’m an assistant coach at Memphis prior to Sacramento, I’m not with my sons.
And it was the most painful experience ever. I get choked up even thinking about it today because I miss Little League games.
And so, Sacramento fires me and right away as I’m walking out the door, I give them an address in Danville and said, “Hey, mail my checks for the next three years to this Danville address because I’m hanging out with my kids. I’m not coaching.” And I made that decision, literally, the day I was fired that I wanted… I did not want to miss another Little League game. I wanted to coach my sons. I wanted to be a part of their lives.
So then we fast forward three years into that, and I’m sitting at Matthew’s junior high, and I’m taking him to school and I’m looking around, and there’s a lot of people drinking Starbucks, and they’re not in a rush to go anywhere. And I’m like, “You know what, I got to get out of the carpool lane and get back to coaching.” So I went back to the D-League, had a one-year experience with the Reno D-League team, and then Lakers hired me. Met my wife who was working for NFL Network, living in LA with the Lakers D-League team. But something was telling me that, you know what, I don’t want to keep going for this NBA dream again. I’ve already been there. I’ve done that. I want a new challenge.
And so, as a family, we made a decision to go the college route. And I knew what I didn’t know. I wasn’t prepared to be a college coach. My ego said that I was but I, I didn’t know what recruiting was. I didn’t know how to build a roster.
So I go to Arizona State, I… first meeting, I don’t even know what a bye game is for your non-conference schedule. That’s how green I was. That’s how inexperienced I was. So I just became so enthusiastic about learning every possible thing that I could about the college game. I became consumed with it because it was all new. And it was a huge, huge challenge. Unlike the NBA where I had kind of grown up in that. And so, two years at Arizona State.
Then I’m back in Danville. And another crossroads of… LSU offered me a job and Flip Saunders has offered me a job to come back to the Timberwolves where my dad was the first coach of the Timberwolves. Flip had played for my dad. Here’s my idol offering me a job to work with him in a state where my, my dad’s name carried something. And my wife just looked at me and said, “You know what, my gut is telling me go to LSU.” And I said, “I don’t even know Johnny Jones. I don’t know anything about Baton Rouge.”
It was the most amazing decision that I’ve ever experienced in my life on anything because it was a total leaf leap of faith. The Timberwolves thing would have been so comfortable, and it probably would have lasted for quite some time because even though Flip Saunders is now passed away, his son Ryan is the coach of the Timberwolves. So, I probably would have still been there after all these years in some capacity with them. But we went for, you know, something that was a little bit outside the box, took a leap of faith. And it was the best thing I ever did. And I learned a lot about recruiting from Johnny Jones and then got the Nevada job, you know, after eight months of being in Baton Rouge and, and took off running.
Coach, it takes a lot of humility to be able to have the resume you had at the NBA and decide to go into college green like that and be enthusiastic about learning and not, well, you know, this is great, but I’ve coached at the higher level, like, where do you get that… where do you get that humility from?
I guess just maybe seeing my dad get fired. You know, knowing that life is not easy, because it’s not. There’s, there’s a lot of challenges and, and I always thought that every time there’s a new challenge, if you could overcome it, you know, it becomes that much sweeter.
You know, when I was an assistant at Arizona State after one year, didn’t get a head job; after two years, didn’t get a head job. Then I’m starting to wonder like, you know…
That’s when you were at that crossroads.
Yeah, it was, it was a family decision. And, and it is humbling for sure. I mean, when your sons are telling you, “Dad, why are you an assistant coach in college and you used to be an NBA head coach?” Like that’s, that’s tough. You know, I got to sit down with a 12-year-old and explain to him how life works.
And it wasn’t easy, you know, because my sons wanted to go to NBA games. They wanted to see their dad coach and that, that whole thing of being in an NBA locker room and getting shoes from NBA all-stars, that whole life has ended not just for me, but for my sons. And so, it was a very, very humbling for sure. But, but I’m really driven and was really, really excited about that chapter of trying to figure out the college game as much as I could.
Okay, so before we go into the Nevada years and into the present, I want to pause and talk about some of the influences in your life. Because, obviously, one key thing that, that everyone I talk to brings up is the different mentors and people who spoke into their life, who taught them things they didn’t know, who made an impact that they still remember, and I know you have a lot of those guys in your life. Some of the ones you’ve mentioned to me are guys like Hubie Brown. You went into this you didn’t even know X’s and O’s. You know, you need players who’ve been coached well. He’s a guy who’s an X’s and O genius.
Talk about guys like Hubie, Chuck Daly, Doc Rivers, you mentioned, Mike Fratello, what those guys have done to help shape you in addition to your father who you’ve already mentioned.
One of the first things that I will always remember. And it was in elementary school. My dad had a meeting with Paul Brown, the former NFL legendary, and he told my dad that the most important five minutes that my dad would ever have as an ABA coach with the San Diego Sails was the first five minutes of the speech, that the players within those five minutes were going to determine what their buy-in was going to be. And so, I have heard my dad tell that story for the next 20 years to other coaches and stuff. And so, I remembered that. So that was one very important and overly powerful message.
Because now I’ve read, as I gotten older, who Paul Brown is and all that he’s accomplished and all the ways that he changed the NFL game, but that was one big-time lesson but each guy really quickly, Jim, if I could, like Chuck Daly, incredible predictor of the future. Like he could tell what… when his team was going to get tired by looking at the schedule. His rapport with referees was insanely positive. Doc Rivers, one of the greatest pregame motivation speakers ever. He loved boxing and used boxing analogies. And his rapport with the media was insanely good. He got along with every media member. He always gave media members time. So those are things that just stick out; not X and O stuff, but, but just people skill stuff that sticks out with those two.
Hubie Brown, I went with him on an overseas All-Star team. And so, our training camp and then the tournament that we played in, never seen a guy take practices and breaking them like a football coach. From drill, the drill started off in bits and pieces and then it got to the whole picture at the end. A lot of coaches, you see them start with the whole and then they break it down later, as practices go.
He was an absolute genius in getting this team ready. When he had… he had everything laid out, what he was going to do, every single day, every single minute of practice. And Mike Fratello, an incredible competitive person. Lon Kruger really taught how you have to integrate your family with your job, how you can’t just be driven solely by the job but how… he was the much more family-oriented guy. He would always say, “Hey, go pick your sons up in the bus stop. Be there when they get off the bus from school.”
So each of these guys gave so much. And then I start thinking about, like, Jerry West… being in the draft room with Jerry West and all the things that you learn on how he evaluated players. But above all, Jerry West was the most competitive human being I’ve ever seen in my life. He was just insanely competitive.
So I think that Pat Williams is legendary with the Orlando Magic. Pat Williams would read stuff and give me his cliff notes because he knew I like to read. And so, here’s this legendary general manager, former GM of the Philadelphia 76ers who put together one of the greatest teams in the history of the NBA, and he’s giving me, basically, I was like an intern with Orlando. I was so low on the totem pole, but he was trying to mentor me.
And he took time to mentor me, which is… which is crazy because he had a really important job as the president of the Orlando Magic but spent time working with a really young person who was just growing into the field. So all these lessons of all these people is incredible. And Stan Kasten, who was running three different pro franchises when I was with the Hawks, and he did an incredible thing. He had the Thrashers’ General Manager in their front office, the Atlanta Braves front office and some of their scouts and the Atlanta Hawks, we all got together and had a meeting that lasted for two full days.
Like a mastermind kind of trade best practices.
Absolutely incredible, one of the best things that I’ve ever been a part of to just sit, fly on the wall and hearing all these guys from different sports and how everything overlaps from a leadership standpoint.
That’s awesome. And then the other side throughout these years we’ve gone through, you’ve developed a lot of guys and you became known as a teacher amongst your coaching peers when it came to your time in the developmental leagues especially. And talk about that. You mentioned Keith Smart already, but there’s players that, that are playing now that a lot of listeners will know guys like Jeremy Lin, Kevin Martin, Gerald Green, who, you know, are a part of this group that site you as a mentor to them.
How important is that to you, in addition to your sons that you mentioned, to be known as a guy that was able to take time to mentor, to develop? To me that’s legacy.
Yeah, I mean, I think the biggest thing like with the player development stuff is, you know, number one, how can you identify what somebody needs and then get them to buy into that that’s a whole. Like with Jeremy Lin, he was a great loose ball getter. He lacked confidence as a point guard because he was kind of a combo guard when he was just getting into the NBA. He was not very good at all going left on pick and rolls. He was awesome going to his right hand, but he needed to work on his left-hand pick and roll. So we identified that, talked about it, and then it was up to him to spend the time working on it, and he did.
But with all those guys, really, the biggest thing was confidence. Like how could you build a guy up for him to be Superman and think that he could conquer anything.
Gerald Green has always been one of the greatest athletes ever. I mean, he won dunk contests and… but Gerald didn’t know how to focus. And he kind of wanted to screw around a lot in practice, and he didn’t really pay attention to scouting reports. And so, one of the things that we talked to him about was, “Gerald, it’s not about how many threes you make, it’s not about how many dunks you can have. It’s about can you focus in practice to become better. And can you focus on the game plan.” And he allowed us to talk to him about that, bought in and did it.
And then with a guy like Danny Green, it was all about, you know, putting the ball in his hands for him to overcome how to close a game. And it’s so interesting because now Danny Green has won NBA championships…
…and he’s known as like this clutch shooter. But yet I think that’s kind of what kept him out of the league early on his in his career was just this lack of confidence when big moments were happening.
Yeah, I think people also put him in boxes because he doesn’t have a prototypical jump shot, right? He’s kind of got a different way to shoot but he is the modern-day Robert Horry in some sense with some of the big shots he’s hit in his career.
And he… and one of the phrases that the NBA uses is three and D.
Hitting threes and playing D… and that’s what Danny is all about.
No doubt about it. So you get to Nevada. You’re a head coach again, but at the college level, not a major program, but an opportunity to do something that could be really special. Obviously, you saw that vision from the beginning. Just talk about what happened there.
Yeah, I mean, with… number one, I was lucky that an athletic director in Doug Knuth gave me a job because he’s the first guy that went out on a limb and, you know, said, “Hey, with all this pro background, we’re going to hire you,” and it was a really, really great fit. You know, I did my dad’s warm up, pregame warm up the first year to try to drive interest and our whole thing was how could we win, but yet also create an environment where we became a national brand, like everyone knows Gonzaga was a national brand and we felt through style of play.
And you’re going to love this, social media.
We felt through embracing those things, we could turn ourselves into a national brand. And we knew that we weren’t going to have a lot of local players that we could recruit. There weren’t a lot of in-state or there weren’t a lot of Northern Nevada players that were Division I players.
So because of that, we had to become a national brand or else we were going to fail. And so, we took to social media. We opened up our doors to as many things as possible. We had stadium come and do a full-year documentary with us. And we tried to do everything we possibly could. The very first year actually, we went to our arts and film department on campus and Paul Mitchell who directed that we asked him, “Hey, can you do with your students… can they film everything? Can they come to practice? Can they film us pregame? Can they film us post game? Can they film halftime? And can the on-student, can they produce a show for us? And they did that. And we were able to give that to recruits that didn’t know who we were.
Huge, huge, huge, huge and, and you look at social, and the platform is just in the years you were there, Instagram became what it is now. It wasn’t what it, what it is now when you first started there. Look at what it’s become for athletes and young athletes let alone Twitter, which already was full in motion when you got there. It’s amazing that you did that. You talk about Chuck Daly seeing what’s next, like, you saw what was next for sure. The video of you dressing up with the football gear on, whose idea was that?
Most of those ideas are mine. And the good thing is they’re my ideas. The bad thing is I have a wife that… she’s got pride too. And so, she shuts down about half of my ideas. Anytime I have an idea, right away, I run it by my wife, my daughter and my two sons. And so, a lot of the stuff that I have ideas for, they get shot down internally in the home at the kitchen table.
And so, it’s… and the thing is, is you go back to… when you met your wife was when you were working with the Buss Family?
The Buss Family and being in L.A., that probably had an impact on a lot of the things that you’ve done at Nevada too, I would think, right, just that whole branding philosophy.
There’s no question. I mean, I worked for… my direct boss was Joey Buss. And obviously Joey’s boss was… his father was still living at the time, Jerry buss. And we actually… I had the first week on the job with the Los Angeles Defenders their G-League team, we had dinner with Dr. Buss. And when he walked into the restaurant, the whole restaurant stopped. And his air that he had and the way he carried himself, and he was a promoter. Like when you think about what he did with like just the Laker Girls.
When you think about that thought process and how far ahead of his time he was with the dance group that they had, incredible. And the Lakers were all about branding and that logo means so much.
Worldwide, and it’s because of that Buss Family.
So you end up turning this program into something that is national. I mean, people know Nevada, top ranked team, top 10 in the country, you know, high seeds in March Madness, a Sweet 16 run. Seeing it all happen after going in there with that vision, what did that feel like for you, for your players, to just see the vision become reality?
I would say like the greatest thing about that four-year run, even the very first year, it’s not a three-letter tournament that you want to be in, which is the CBI.
But you win it.
But we win, and our first practice leading up to it was a disaster. We had seniors that did not… well, they wanted to quit the team. They wanted to stop playing. And I begged him. I literally got on the floor of Lawlor Events Center, on the hardwood floor, put my hands together and said, “I’m begging you. Would you please play in this tournament and see what happens?”
And our last game was standing-room only, sold out, a celebration like one I’ve never been a part of almost. And to see those guys crying in the locker room, the same guys that didn’t want to play a few weeks later, and the pride of winning, they won something. You know what I mean? Like, we finished the season. There’s not a lot of teams that end the college season with a win. And we were one of the few that did. And to see those guys’ joy was incredible. And then the NCAA Tournament runs, it’s like something you can never experience.
Like, words can’t describe when you win a game in that, and then when you win another game in that.
But the greatest joy internally was seeing my wife’s face, seeing my two sons’ face and I kept thinking, like, I’m doing an interview sideline and I’m going crazy and I’m looking at my sons and I wanted to break down crying because I’m like, “All right, now they got pride in their dad again,” because I keep thinking, like, “Hey, I’ve disappointed these two young men who wanted me to coach in the NBA,” and I’m looking at them and I’m like, “You know what? They think this is cooler than the NBA now. So this is awesome.”
Well, and they’re following your footsteps at USD. And, and they’re also seeing why you made those decisions. Now, it all makes sense. What a lesson for them to learn.
No question. As they get older… because one of my sons Michael is working with us. And so they see this stuff. And so, now it becomes clear.
But I think the, the neatest thing when, when anybody has success is all the time away from your family, now it gets rewarded. And you know, when you’re not winning, it’s really tough when you’re away all the time and you’re not winning, that’s depressing. Man, that’s hard… that’s hard to stomach. But when you win and you can look like I… when I’m watching our highlights of the NCAA tournament and our Sweet 16 run, I’m not looking at the game. I’m like, “Show my daughter again.”
“I want to see her reaction. Show my wife again. I want to see that smile and that intensity when the games are tied and my family’s faces,” that’s really cool.
It’s beautiful. And even going back to the story of, you know, taking the time off with your sons, it resonates with me having three children, it’s… you get one shot. And what you’ve built with your family, no matter what you do on the court here at Arkansas’ is most impressive to me of our conversation, commend you for the investment you’ve made there.
This program, you haven’t played a game yet, right? You’re here. You’re in the SEC, Arkansas. Great tradition here, national championship game, two years in a row in the ‘90s, won one of them. I grew up on those teams Corliss Williamson, Scotty Thurman, Corey Beck, I can name the whole team, Stuart… you’re going to do that again. That’s what you’re here to do. Right?
And so, you’re here to build a national brand. You, you have done that at a smaller program. You’re in the SEC now. What’s it going to take to make that happen?
Recruiting, getting good players. Because without players, you can’t win. And so, we are going to have to recruit relentlessly. It’s going to take a little bit of time, obviously, to… it’s hard to make the NCAA tournament, like, I’m at LSU and I’m at Arizona State, and it’s like, it’s hard.
Like, just to get in that thing. And then when you get in that thing, I think if you can have your team with the right mentality, and they’re healthy, and they’re fresh mentally and fresh physically, anything can happen as we all know. So I think really, for us, it’s like, this first year, how do we… how do we develop a brand? How do we develop a style? How do we develop an identity? Who are we on the court? How do we represent the university? Do we play hard every single night? Like those are things we… they’re must.
There are things that, they’re non-negotiable, that we have to be about. Because of the passion of our fans, it’s not locally, it’s statewide. We are the state’s pro team. This state loves basketball, loves football, it also loves basketball. Sometimes that’s not the case in the SEC, where your fan base loves both sports and they do here. And they want to win. They’re thirsty to win. You can feel it. You can you can see it. You can you can touch it.
Having said that, we’re going to try to do everything the right way through culture. Everybody talks about culture, but, you know, we’ve got to establish who we are, who… what our identity is, and then we got to go get players.
Right. You know, I’m watching a lot of new coaches come in now that are like you. They’re thinking about branding, and they’re thinking about recruiting in a new media manner. And one thing I’ve also noticed is when you do that you also have to tie it to what happens on the court, right? Like, our friend Geoff Collins at Georgia Tech is going in there to offense known for the action, right? So first thing you think of when you hear Georgia Tech, you got to rebrand that on the field and then bring it off the field. And they’re doing a heck of a job on social.
INFLCR is partners with you. We’re excited to be working with a brand that has a leader like yourself. What’s the, what’s the philosophy to establish this brand that permeates through your players and on the court?
Well, I think, one, like for me, you know, we want to embrace social media. You know, we want to embrace who we are. Like, we’re going to practice really hard, but we want to… we want to be fun. You know, and I think, like, how do we get that out there, that we’re fun, that our guys enjoy coming to work. That, yeah, they’re really business like in practice and in the game, but this is a fun place to play. And that’s kind of what we created at Nevada, like people thought that we had a fun style to watch.
Even if we didn’t win, we were entertaining. And so, I, like how do we get that out? How do we… how do our fans understand that this is entertainment? We’re trying to entertain. We’re trying to win. And we want to do it with some flair and some pizzazz. I guess that kind of… be what would…
I love it.
That’s what we would think…
Well… and, and the thing is, is fans want to be around that. And the more your players are willing to engage with fans, and whether it’s taking a picture when they get asked for it or just creating moments that fans want to be a part of by being there, that’s, that’s what it’s all about.
And we’ll talk to our guys about that like fan engagement and, you know, how do we get more students to a game, like you can’t just like talk about it in the media that you want students to, you know, you got to go help them move in when they’re freshmen. And then you got to help the next year’s freshmen class move in. And then all of a sudden, you got four years of you’ve been helping move in freshman, like, now they’re your fans.
They are your fans. Tiki Barber, great football player once told me, he said, “If I could go back to when I was the running back at Virginia, and all the people that wanted to talk to me whether they were huge donors like John Paul Tudor, you know, all these big entrepreneurs and investors, whether they were fans, they all wanted to talk to me. Because I was a running back and Virginia. I was kind of off in the corner and I was too cool.
You know, I look back at it now and I’m like, man, I just wish I would have went up to them and said, ‘Hi, how you doing? I’m Tiki,’” you know, and it broke the ice and introduced myself because they would love to talk to me. And I always tell athletes, “Remember, right now, everybody wants to talk to you. That may not always be the case. So how can you make the most of it?” And I think what you’re talking about, getting them to move freshman into the dorm, that’s a way to break the ice between this, “Wow, big time athlete. I’m scared to talk to him or her,” and, oh, there is another student and we’re here to support.
Well, the first thing I’m going to do, I’m going to let them listen to the last two and a half minutes of what you just told.
That story with Tiki is incredible. And I’m glad you shared that with me. Because in all seriousness, the next time we have a film session, they’re going to hear that two-and-a-half-minute thing, because it’s powerful.
I’ll back you in person.
Listen, I, I am in your corner. I… we’re so excited to be partners with you this year. We are pumped to be partners with Hunter and the athletic department. Everything going on here is amazing. But especially getting a chance to meet you, you taking the time to do this, it means a ton. So thank you.
Thank you, Jim. We can’t wait to be partners with you and to open up our social media doors to new fans. And I’m all in for learning. I’ve learned just looking at your website today, learn talking with you. And it’s going to be a great partnership. And I know our players are going to be excited too.
Such a great story. The nonlinear path I talk about each episode is, is evident especially in the story of coach Muss. I mean, man, what a journey to get to where he’s at today. Really thankful he took the time to join us.
I told you we had a bonus, Taylor McGillis. Taylor is a guy who played college sports. He’s a Division II baseball player, and then has had a really successful career working in this fast-evolving space of digital and social media. And he’s worked for big brands like University of Miami, an INFLCR client that he used to work for and now he’s at another one of our partners, University of Arkansas athletics doing some really innovative things, leading the charge for digital and social for the Razorbacks.
Now, we’re joined by Taylor McGillis. And, Taylor, first off, you have rolled out the red carpet for me here in Fayetteville, thank you.
You deserve it. You deserve it.
So, obviously, we’ve gotten to know each other through our partnership with INFLCR in Arkansas Athletics, but, you know, you really are at the center of this digital movement that continues to evolve fast and you’re an SEC school. I got a chance to spend a lot of time with different components of your team today. You got a pretty awesome team. But you know, there’s a start to your story that really goes back to you being a student athlete. You know, you grew up playing baseball. You went to Saint Leo University. So talk a little bit about being a college student athlete Division II, we share that…
Baseball, we share that.
But, but the moment you realized that you wanted to parlay the discipline, character and other gems you get from playing Division II baseball into being a professional in the sports world.
Certainly learned a ton playing Division II baseball probably even before that, it goes back to my childhood. I grew up in college athletics. My dad is a longtime college athletics administrator. I think I knew from a pretty early age that I was very interested in this line of work.
Me and my brother joke about this: I remember being at a New Mexico basketball game probably when I was in the third or fourth grade, and we didn’t have any tickets to the game because it was sold out. But my dad just said, “Go figure it out.” And me and my older brother when, when… we just sat in the student section, and we had no right to be there, we probably should not have been in the student section. We were elementary and middle school students but I… that’s a pivotal memory for me because I remember thinking how incredible of an atmosphere this was. Obviously, love playing baseball, ended up being fortunate enough to find the coach who thought I was good enough to hit at the collegiate level and played baseball at Saint Leo University, and just had a blast.
And I, I relate so much to my career and so much to just who I am as what I learned and the values of being a collegiate athlete, specifically, at the Division II level where you don’t get… you don’t have quite the glitz and the glamour as you do at the D-I level.
Yeah, I think there is something to that and Coach Musselman and I were talking about his journey in the CBA and, you know, how that played and that he’d been an NBA head coach and now an NCAA Division I head coach at the SEC level. And there’s something about that work ethic with humility, servant leadership that comes from playing Division II baseball. You’ve got a leadership position you’re in right now here.
You’re the assistant athletic director for branding for a school that has a brand with a lot of tradition. What’s that like for you? And what’s your vision for this brand as we go into this, further into this digital age?
It’s a big, big, big responsibility. And I came from a school previously that had a big brand in Miami, but it was a small private school. Coming to Arkansas is also a big brand, but it is a large public school. I think the first thing you do when you get to any new place and you’re kind of responsible for the brand is you got to dive in and figure out what these people are all about, figuring out what makes up the fabric of this state.
We did a… we do an exercise fairly frequently whenever we’re brainstorming, and you try to come up with unique characteristics that describe what it means to be a Razorback. You know, for example, the question we ask when we are doing a brainstorming session, actually, for the creative in this building was, “What type of car is the Arkansas Razorbacks?” And that’s just an interesting, thought-provoking question. You know, when you think of a Razorback probably being tough, a little rugged, maybe we box a little bit heavier weight class, do more with less, and you start to come up with this list of characteristics that describe your brand, describe your fans, describe a good portion of your student athletes, and you start to shape everything you’re doing from a brand standpoint kind of around those pillars and do they align with who we are.
Because every brand is unique. You know, we are the only Power Five school in Arkansas. That’s, that’s much different than some of our SEC counterparts who have large, other SEC schools competing in the same state. So knowing what our strengths are, we, one of the things we say here is the strength of the state is the Razorbacks and the strength of the Razorbacks is the state.
So while we’re a small state, from a numbers standpoint, we have just a huge amount of people who are pulling in the same direction. And I think that kind of contributes to the overall brand of, of who we are.
Now, you, you have a tradition here where, you know, baseball, basketball, football, just thinking those sports and it goes beyond that, track and field, gymnastics, and we could… there’s a lot of sports that have had success at the conference and national level here. But we were talking earlier, men’s basketball and football, is usually an either or in the SEC. But not really here, right? There’s been national championships in both sports, but it’s been a while and the state is hungry to get it back. So how does that relate to this car exercise?
That’s interesting. You alluded to we have won… we’ve been the multiple basketball Final Fours, women’s Final Four, obviously, won the 1994 National Championship in baseball and have…
In basketball, yeah, and had, had that 1964 Football Championship. You know, how it relates back to the car, I think the car that I chose for us was like a red… what was it, I would say a red, small pickup truck. We’re not the biggest and we’re not the fastest but we’re going to do the most with what we have, maybe a little more efficiently. And I think that’s how you’ve seen our programs run over the years when they’ve been successful. Coach Morris’ mantra, and kind of just his buy into our state is “football in… football in its natural state. Arkansas as a natural state.” And I think we’ve, we’ve tied those two together pretty nicely.
Yeah. All right, so let’s go back. You’re done at Saint Leo.
You decide, “All right, I’m going to follow in my father’s footsteps. I’ve always wanted to do this. I’m going to start working in college sports,” and you start working right there…
…with the people that were serving us a student athlete.
And I had, I had helped out in the office, and I can remember the exact product I was working on, what class it was in when I realized, “Okay, this is definitely what I want to do.” Sounds kind of goofy, but I was working on a media guide for our media relations class and that sounds dorky, and it’s so irrelevant to my job now.
But I remember thinking about how much fun I was having promoting our team. And being a Division II program, we didn’t have the resources to always get what we felt like we deserved. And the fact that I came from that school when I was able to do stuff as a student and I was able to have heavy responsibility early on, and then eventually land a job there as soon as that was done, because how small the staff sizes are, you, you get the privilege of doing almost everything. And there’s no choice but to figure it out.
So I think I credit a lot of my digital knowledge to just figuring it out, where I recognize now I’m at a big Power Five school and we have multiple people who are full-time graphic designers, motion designers, you know, social media strategists, and so, some of the entry-level people aren’t required to do that. And so, I always try to encourage them, do things that you don’t know how to do and just figure things out. And coming from a Division II space, you just have to do that.
And then I, you know, I think about this frequently, I’m probably one of the first people or the first wave of people, there’s a few others in the industry who… who are like this, but that their first job was kind of centered around social media or branding or, you know, digital strategy, those things didn’t exist. So we’re kind of that first… I’m that first generation of people who their real first career move was in this space. And I think that’s allowed me and some others to really shape out the college athletics digital media space has, has transformed. And that’s really powerful.
You end up getting a chance to go into Power Five, Division I right down the street, University of Miami, you mentioned that. What were some of the big learnings you took from Saint Leo to the U and what were some of the big learnings you got at the U during your time there?
At Saint Leo, I was always trying to keep up with people in schools who I thought were cool. And so, there wasn’t much thought or strategy into why we were doing things. We were doing things because we saw other schools doing them. And we were just trying to keep up. And that’s not a terrible thing for a school at that level. I remember at Miami being challenged to not just do things because they were cool. Brian Boucher who now works at Washington, I credit a lot of my thought processes now to him because he, he was always challenging us to figure out the revenue generation component behind things.
And previously, I just like to design cool stuff, or do things on social media that would garner a reaction, but at people at Miami, specifically, we challenged ourselves to think about probably the long-term, you know, process of a fan, and how digital plays a role in that, but just its role and how we need to do a better job connecting digital to other aspects of our organization.
And then coming to Arkansas, you know, you just, really just fuel has been thrown on the fire in this entire industry in the last five years. So getting here, we had a small, small staff. We’ve been able to grow the staff, and I think we continue to just do things more with good thought behind them. We try to, here, take on the kind of the thought process of less is more. It’s such a noisy, noisy environment. So sometimes it takes a lot more effort to say no than it does to say yes to doing things.
You are in the state where the weather is beautiful. You’re used to being there. And you’re learning a lot. And then all of a sudden, you get a shot to come here. And that’s a big move. You’re young. You, you know, have the agility to do it. But talk about the opportunity to come here, what was going through your mind, and then what it’s been like versus what you thought it would be like.
The opportunity to come to Arkansas was too good to pass up because it was, it was the first time I had the opportunity to be in a role that I felt like was perfect for me. So when I was at Miami, I was still working in a communications world. Most of the core job responsibilities in… of that role were outside of my comfort zone. I was always skewing towards the digital and the social side of things. So when the opportunity came up to kind of leave the social and digital for a Power Five SEC school, that was absolutely something I was interested in.
After getting here and now being here five years, it’s been, it’s been pleasant to see how my role has evolved from primarily being website and social focused, to taking on more graphic design responsibility to taking more of a facility branding role responsibility, has been really, really fun. And I think just seeing how this position in this brand, this branding position, is perceived around the department is so much greater than it was previously, I think, the thinking, the creative thinking is more valued than it was previously.
And I think that’s just… I attribute that to the growth of the industry. Where previously you only had marketing people and communications people, you have this new wave of people who are, you know, creative problem solvers. And so, I think we started to look at our department as not just the executors of ideas, but actually the problem solving through creative solutions.
Yeah, and what I’ve noticed just being here today, I mentioned earlier, you rolled out the red carpet. You had me with Coach Muss earlier and obviously did an interview for this episode. Hunter, your AD. People are really thinking in line with what you’re doing. Like you have support here from head coaches, from the AD. That’s big.
It all starts with the leadership at the top and we’ve been fortunate here to have great leadership with Jeff Long before and now Hunter Yurachek. You know, Hunter uses social media in his own unique way and that’s something that we’ve talked about internally is that’s okay if everybody does social media different. He knows how he wants to use it. And he has absolutely been one hundred percent in… with any sort of access that we want to do with him for our own brand and social media.
When we hired Coach Musselman and when we hired Coach Wieber, our new gymnastics coach, Hunter said, “What do you guys need to make this, you know, the coolest rollout for a coach we could do?” And we said, “We need, we need creative content, captures on the plane when you go with them to pick them up.” Not many Power Five ADs would let videographers and photographers go follow them across the country to go pick up a head basketball coach. So his, his willingness to open the doors to what he’s doing from a… to allow us to tell that story of our department better is just absolutely invaluable.
Because as we know and as social media continues to evolve, access is the most important thing. What can we do with our access that others cannot? How can we show what it’s like to be a student athlete? How can we show what it’s like to be a part of this community to make our fans and make potential recruits want to be a part of it? So his buy in and his willingness to allow us to have partnerships like this and to invest resources from a body standpoint but also from a monetary standpoint, thankful for that and excited, really excited to the direction we’re headed.
So, you know, I would echo that. I really enjoyed my time with Hunter today. And yeah, I mean, this partnership with INFLCR and Arkansas is one of the first that we’ve started athletics wide. You know, usually we work up to athletics wide, but he really does see the whole vision I think that you have talked about with me and I think that that is important. I don’t know that that’s always the case with the AD and the assistant AD for branding, for digital strategy, for creative.
But one thing that he told me, actually, he showed me some pictures today of, he’s really proud of, was with the new head coach hire he pushed out red smoke from the arena and you guys filmed it. And people loved it. And he told me about a few people. I won’t mention their names that didn’t want them to do it, thought it would blow up in his face. But he did it anyways. He talked to me about the decision to put student athletes of the teams on the plane to ride with the family shirts on, the branded family shirts for Arkansas. So when he showed me that stuff, I knew that that was stuff that you have been talking about, and he was listening. And he was putting his touch on it and his authority to make it happen to provide the access.
The fact that we were able to put current student athletes team in a new private jet and fly them across the country to go pick up a new coach was probably one of the coolest ideas I think we’ve come up with and the fact that he didn’t shoot that idea down right away and was like, “Heck, yeah, that’s a dang cool idea. We’re going to do it,” and we did it the next day just speaks to his willingness to want to be a progressive and fun and engaging brand. And I think it, I think it has started to really take effect with our fans.
So what has been one of the biggest challenges so far in your career?
This is a cop out answer but the ever needing, ever growing need for content. And thankfully we have, we have partners like INFLCR now, they’re able to help us get that content out to a greater reach. What else?
I’ll rephrase it on top of that. One challenge that most digital, social, creative professionals have is quantifying the value of their work. How do you approach that?
I think what digital folks and creative folks have probably always struggled with a little bit is showing return on the investment for what they’re doing. A lot of other departments always have to show that I don’t think we as an industry have been good at conveying that to leadership.
I think something that I’ve tried to do, and I learned this from my time at Miami, I learned this from Chris Freet who’s now Kansas. Show monetary results from what we’re doing on digital and people will have buy in, immediately.
So it takes work to track what you’re doing digitally, whether that’s on email, or whether that’s on website, or whether that’s on social to see how that’s correlating to direct sales. But if you put the right tracking mechanisms in place, you can absolutely do that. So the fact that we’re able to show that we made X amount of dollars from this social media campaign we ran over the summer, when you show that to leadership, you show that to the business office, you kind of get instant, you know, justification for the investment that we’re putting in.
So I think I’ve, I’ve tried to take the approach from a revenue-generation standpoint of showing the value and the worth, showing how much money someone in our email database is worth and putting an actual monetary value on, you know, what acquiring a new customer is. Every customer is worth X amount of dollars. So if we send that one email that’s going to generate a whole bunch of unsubscribes, you’re losing that much money. So I think anytime you can take an analytical approach to things and show leaders who may not be as familiar with the digital space and may not be as familiar with some of the more ambiguous social media metrics, always being able to fall back on hard figures is really, really helpful for getting buy in from the top.
Now let’s shift over to Coach Musselman. He comes in here, a lot of excitement around this. I know season tickets are, you know, selling off the shelf. I think more than 10,000 have been sold already. And you know, obviously, they haven’t even started practicing yet. Lot of success in Nevada, big background, a lot of energy himself. What’s your outlook knowing that he’s going to provide access, that he did nothing but focus on social at his last school and he’s going to do that here, like, how are you going to leverage that opportunity because it’s a big one for you?
I am… we just have to make sure that we can keep up with his pace and his energy because he is… he is one of the most non-stop guys I’ve ever seen, which we absolutely love here and we love how willing, willing he is to try new things. I’m sure most of you guys listening saw that viral pool dunk alley oop video that they put together, I think that was one hundred percent his idea and he’s constantly wanting to just do things that are going to generate buzz around his program.
And we saw that from his time at Nevada during their NCAA tournament runs. And, and that’s just super exciting for people really in any external role knowing any of the coaches willing to do anything and everything. It will be a challenge because we have to come up with some stuff. We have to think outside any scope that we’ve ever thought before if we’re going to be able to actually match the level of creativity that he’s looking for. But we’re super, super excited because our basketball program probably needed a little bit of a jolt of energy.
And I think not just from a digital and social side, we’re challenging ourselves from a marketing perspective, from an in-game experience, now is our opportunity with his brand, with his energy to really kind of take this program to the next level. We’re super excited.
When you got a coach like that who’s got a lot of ideas comes from the background, he comes from, I mean, he, you know, worked with the Buss Family and the Lakers organization. I mean, he’s been around some of the best, how do you create a strategy that gives—boundaries might not be the right word—but gives a formula for him to follow but also invites sporadic ideas that might be last second, the night before a game?
I think sporadic ideas are important. I don’t think you can ever get too caught up in, you know, a rigid content plan or a rigid social media strategy. Because social media is the most fluid thing, most fluid industry there is.
I think we’ll start with and we’ve done this a little bit, we haven’t done this as in depth as we would have liked to, but we will, is finding out what, what are like the core pillars and values of him as a person, what are the core pillars and values that he’s going to expect from this team. And we’ve heard a little bit of it just in the time we’ve spent with him so far. But then kind of framing everything we’re doing around those things. How do they, you know, we know how important recruiting is. We know how tirelessly he is going to recruit, how can some of our content be aligned with the message that he’s giving in-home visits? You know, it’s never ending the ideas we can come up with. So we just want to challenge ourselves to have a formula for what we’re doing. But like you said, not, not be afraid to deviate when he does come up with an off-the-wall idea that’s going to be able to generate the type of buzz to where House of Highlights is picking it up. Those types of things are invaluable to a program’s growth as well.
They are all right. All right. So you’re talking to a young digital professional. He or she calls you. They’re just about to get in the industry. And they asked for advice. What would be your advice to yourself if you were just starting out again?
I would learn skills that other people don’t have. So whether, whether you already have a job, or you don’t, finding, finding kind of a unique skill set to carve out your… for yourself is really valuable. One of the things I would say is, is find a head coach or get with a head coach, build enough rapport with one head coach who’s going to be able to vouch for you. Be ready to work tirelessly.
This industry is, is not for people who are happy where they are. I think they’re… people who stop learning in this industry will quickly fall behind. Continuing to teach yourself new skills even when you get into leadership roles like myself and, and have fun. You can’t ever be too hard on yourself in this space. There’s going to be times where you have gaps on social. You know, we’ve had some, probably, within the last year you’re embarrassed for a little bit, but the good thing is, social media is fun in general. So don’t be afraid to have it.
What’s your vision for your career? What’s your big goal?
I think I am incredibly passionate about college athletics because of the influence and effect it’s had on my life. I care deeply about it beyond the level of any particular team. So I really want to in the future potentially help shape what the future of college athletics is and in that, that’s at a senior level administration role, if that’s a director of athletics role, or something that, you know, potentially doesn’t exist at this point. Maintaining the health and integrity of college athletics is just important to me because I know how important it is for people who are college age and I know how important it is and how, how important the values are that you can learn being a college athlete and how that transforms, you know, into the rest of your life.
I think, you know, we watched that Teamworks video the other day at the summit and there’s just a phenomenal line in there that’s, “Student athletes are our future.” And we’re one of the only countries that has what we have with this system. And are there things that need to evolve? Sure. But how do we do that? And that’s kind of what… when I go down to my core, I always come back to as it’s something that I just care so deeply about because of what it means for individuals, what it offers them. But then also those people are going to be the next leaders of America. That’s, that’s, that’s kind of what I look at for the future of my career.
When you talk about it, you know, the Teamworks talk at our Storyteller Summit, or you being a former student athlete, or you now being so passionate about student athletes and the fact that they’ll be our future leaders, one thing that really was the main point of Teamworks talk to Zach made, how important is what we’re doing together as far as helping student athletes build a brand responsibly, taking all this quality work, documentary, content that they have during this four years are here and helping them weave it into their personal story?
Before we even get into their brand or their story, I think it’s, it’s something that we owe them as, you know, as an institution of higher education that I feel like that’s the least we can do is provide them with imagery and videography for, for what they’re giving to our community and our university. But absolutely, the next biggest piece is the fact that they are able to start building their brand at a very young age that, that you and I certainly were not able to, most freshmen and I’ve spoken to… we call it a Hogs in Transition class, and it’s about personal branding, and most of them look at you sideways, you know, because they have never started to think about even what the definition of a personal brand is. You know, we live in this time where brands are trying to be people and people are trying to be brands.
I always use that line. But just getting them to start thinking about it early is super, super important. And most of them will not become professional athletes. But telling them… basically giving them an outline for what is a personal brand, what is your personal brand, what is the personal brand that you want to have, you know, and where do you want to be in the future, and thinking about attributes that make you unique, joining in on conversations about things that you’re passionate about and conveying the truest form of yourself is your personal brand, the best form of your truest self.
So I think getting people… getting our student athletes to think about what are those things that make them unique that they are passionate about, and allowing them to first understand what their personal brand is and, and they don’t have to have it figured out when they’re freshmen. They have a couple years to do that.
Having INFLCR on board now, allowing us the ability to push them content that maybe describes who they are as a student athlete, it’s just another tool in their toolbox for them to be able to convey a personal brand as they’re trying to develop that here and eventually move on.
Man, I really appreciate everything today, like, the schedule, the people that I got a chance to meet. We’re about to walk downstairs. I’m going to speak to your football team and coach is going to be there. It’s really exciting what you guys have going on here. I can’t wait to come back for a couple games and continue to grow our partnership and just appreciate the genuity of you wanting to put athletes first. The authenticity of it comes out in your interview today, how you do things here, how the leadership does things here, and you should be commended for that.
Appreciate you being here, Jim. Thanks for our partnership.
Thanks a ton to Taylor for sharing a lot of the strategies and tactics behind what they do with digital and social at Arkansas. And of course, thanks to Coach Musselman for taking the time to tell his story here on this episode of I Want Your Job.
You can go to the show notes page right on INFLCR.com. That’s I-N-F-L-C-R.com. Click on the podcast option and you will see Episode 9 here with Coach Musselman and Taylor McGillis. Click on that and you can look at show notes, ways to connect and follow these guys on social media and much more. Follow us too at @INFLCR, I-N-F-L-C-R on all the social mediums and it’s a great way to know when new shows are coming out and really stay in tune with what we’re doing as a brand.
For everyone here at INFLCR, I’m Jim Cavale. Thank you so much for tuning in to another episode of I Want Your Job.