It was recently announced that Chris Mack and his family are “returning” to Louisville (as you’ve no doubt heard by now, his wife is from Louisville and played basketball at Holy Cross High School), and I believe that I offer a unique perspective on the signing.
As someone who grew up in the northern Kentucky area with a Xavier alum father and a current student of the University of Louisville, my opinions on this signing were a bit…conflicted. Mack has been the face of Xavier basketball for the last nine years, and left the school that I affectionately call my second favorite with the most wins in school history, and a staggering 215-97 record. Xavier had been growing under Sean Miller, but Mack welcomed them into the Big East, and most recently won the same conference that Xavier shares with eventual NCAA tournament champion, Villanova.
In the past, Xavier has been called a “stepping stool” job, and this story just adds fuel to the fire that was created by the likes of Skip Prosser, Thad Matta, and Sean Miller. The guy who had recruited names like Semaj Christon, Edmond Sumner, and Trevon Bluiett is now going to be doing his recruiting about an hour and a half down the road.
It was tough to watch Xavier’s first ever 1 seed in the NCAA tournament flame out in the second round to a team that Louisville had beaten twice already, all while rumors about Mack were swirling. It was tough to stomach that guys like Naji Marshall, Paul Scruggs, Tyrique Jones and Quentin Goodin would now have to finish their Xavier careers without the coach that recruited them in the first place.
But it wasn’t all bad.
As anyone who even remotely follows college basketball knows, the University of Louisville needed a pick-me-up recently. The school has been rocked by scandals, the firings of beloved Athletic Director Tom Jurich and of course, Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino. Following this news, students and fans alike endured an unusual down year with David Padgett at the helm, and watched as Mississippi State ended the football and both men’s and women’s basketball seasons. Outside of a ranked baseball team, there wasn’t much good news to be had.
And then the announcement came. The hiring of Chris Mack was a silver lining in a raincloud, and seemed to signal the beginning of the end for the tumultuous times at Louisville. Shortly before the announced Chris Mack hire was the stripping of the interim tag of newly minted Athletic Director Vince Tyra. Shorty after, it was announced the same day that Mack was already on the recruiting trail, offering scholarships to no less than a “dozen” 5 star 2019 recruits.
As someone familiar with his style, I know that Mack usually runs a system with big guards that can space the floor on offense, and big men that aren’t afraid to run pick and rolls. His teams are usually led by an obvious talent at the guard position, and versatile wings. Mack will have a chance to lead Jordan Nwora and Darius Perry next year, and has the chance to still land some promising grad-transfers to shore up some depth.
Mack’s style of play differs from what Pitino ran in year’s past, in that defense has never really been Mack’s focus. Instead he will push the pace a bit more, run more half court offense than Louisville fans have been used to, and score more points.
From both perspectives, the hiring was a good one. Mack was not only the best coach reportedly available, but he offers unique opportunities along with his seven-year, $4 million per year deal.
He offers a chance to lead this team for the long haul, something that this University needs. He was quoted as saying this would be his last coaching job ever, and that is the kind of stability that a school who’s only had two coaches in the last 40 years needs.
For Xavier, it is a bit of a setback. They are afforded, however, an opportunity. An opportunity to build a new name for themselves and an even better reputation.
For Louisville, it is a chance to start over. The era of scandals is (hopefully) over, and the Mack era has begun.