What seemed like an eventuality for the past week or two became official on Tuesday afternoon as news broke from every national college basketball reporter you can name that Louisville had officially agreed to terms with Xavier’s Chris Mack to be the next head coach of the Cardinals.
Mack was in charge at Xavier for nine seasons after taking the reigns after Sean Miller went to Arizona. His first four seasons were in the Atlantic 10 conference, where he accrued a record of 90-44 overall and qualified for the NCAA tournament in his first three campaigns. Following that, the Musketeers transitioned to the newly reformed Big East, and Mack enjoyed the best years of his tenure. Xavier compiled a record of 122-52 over the past five seasons, pushing the program to heights it had never reached before, including a #1 seed in this year’s NCAA tournament and consistent rankings in the top 10 of the AP poll in two of the past three years.
That era is done now, but to write off Xavier going forward would be a mistake for fans of other Big East schools, and for the college basketball landscape in general. As mentioned earlier, Mack took over for Sean Miller, who himself took over from Thad Matta. It goes back further, with Matta claiming the job in the wake of Skip Prosser’s departure to Wake Forest, and he had taken over after Pete Gillen had departed for Providence. Over the past 30+ years, the people making decisions at Xavier have made one home run hire after another, racking up all but one of the program’s 28 NCAA tournament appearances over that time, and there is no reason to expect anything else from them, even though it may be different people running the show.
What we as fans of a Big East rival can say at this point is that even Chris Mack would have been coaching a lesser Xavier team next season. Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura were both seniors, as were Kerem Kanter and Sean O’Mara. That’s their three top scorers, three of their top four rebounders, two of their top three assist men, and also Sean O’Mara. Sorry, Sean, but you played nearly 15 minutes a game the past two seasons, so you’re worth mentioning, even without the stats. THE POINT IS that that’s a lot of minutes and a lot of productive minutes that were going out the door even if Mack stayed.
On top of that, Xavier’s recruiting class for this fall isn’t much to talk about. 247 Sports shows them with three signees, none ranked in the top 180 in the country. They will likely be competitive in the conference next year, even without Mack, but nothing like the national championship contender type of team that they’ve put on the floor when healthy over the past three seasons.
So now they shift management at a time when the team was going to take a slight step back anyway. All coaching changes are turning points in program history, but with this particular one holds a little more weight for Xavier. It’s their first in nearly a decade, their first while a member of their current conference, and they’re replacing a coach who earned his degree in Cincinnati as well. I wouldn’t bet against them, but even the most die-hard Musketeers fan would have to admit that there’s a lot on the line here.
For all the info on Xavier’s coaching search, please check in with our friends at Banners On The Parkway, our SB Nation sister site covering all things Musketeer-related.