The baller and the bawler

Yet another Xavier basketball coach has decide to leave my alma mater (and in this case his alma mater) for greener pastures.

Chris Mack is headed 90 miles south to take over at Louisville. (He’d better bring his Swiffer Wet Jet… there are a lot of messes to clean up.) I used to ask “why?” but having witnessed six coaches leave in my 36 years of rooting for the Muskies, I don’t cry and ask why anymore. I already know the reasons:

  • More cash – $30 million for a seven-year contract, which is waaay more coin than he earned at Xavier. In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of college b-ball, where one bad season can get you fired in many places, that’s some darn good peace of mind for a 49-year-old in a young man’s game.
  • Family ties – Mack is born and raised in Cincinnati and his parents still live here. He played for Xavier, and was an assistant coach before taking the helm nine seasons ago. But his wife is from Louisville, and her family still lives there. Anyone who has ever had to play grandbaby tug of war at Thanksgiving or Christmas can appreciate that it’s his wife’s family’s “turn” with their three kids.
  • Prestige – as much as many Xavier fans hate to admit it, Xavier is still a notch or two below the blue blood programs. Louisville plays in the ACC, and has a storied basketball history. Two official titles (they had to vacate a third, in 2013) and eight Final Fours. Meanwhile X has yet to make a Final Four.
  • Bigger – U of L plays in the new Yum! Center in downtown Louisville, which holds 22,090 for b-ball… nearly twice the capacity of Xavier’s Cintas Center and the third largest arena in the country. Also, as a public university with an enrollment of 22,000 each year (more than three times Xavier’s annual enrollment), they have a much larger fan and donor base. (And lower academic standards… which matters greatly when you are recruiting basketball “student-athletes.”)
  • A new challenge – when Chris Mack’s Xavier mentor Skip Prosser left XU for Wake Forest, he quoted Faulkner: Sometimes you have to say goodbye to the things you know and hello to the things you don’t. (Skip was a man of letters… a perfect fit for Xavier. Yet he left too.)
  • Bigger fish in a smaller pond – Cincinnati has the Reds, Bengals and another Top 25 program three miles from Xavier’s campus. In Louisville, the Cardinals reign supreme.
  • Timing – Mack probably felt he had taken Xavier as far as he could take them. This year they won the Big East regular season for the first time, rose as high as #3 in the Top 25, and got a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. With four key players from this year’s team departing and a weaker class of incoming recruits, next season was going to be a letdown with or without him.

Before he cut ties, he cut down a few nets.

It was a great nine-year run: Mack became Xavier’s career leader in coaching wins this season (215 overall), won conference championships in the Atlantic 10 and the Big East, and made the NCAA tourney eight times, with three Sweet Sixteens and an Elite Eight.

So I wish Mack well in his new adventure. And I agree with what Xavier AD Greg Christopher said yesterday:

“At the end of the day, this program is beyond any one player, any one coach, any one president. At the end of the day, this program has been built over four decades with great coaches, great players and great administrators who have helped build it to where it is. I would hope a program transcends any one single person. Now, our all-time winningest coach is really important and was a big part of that. (Mack) deserves a lot of credit, both as a player, an assistant, and head coach, so, again we wish him the best as he moves forward.” 

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