I remember the exact thoughts that were running through my mind as I read that dreaded ESPN ticker last spring. Sean Miller was leaving Xavier as nothing but a stepping stone in his path to become the head coach at the University of Arizona. It wasn’t a huge shock however, as rumors of Miller’s departure had been swirling for quite some time. As a Musketeer fan though, I was left initially with one overbearing thought, “now what?”
An even bigger question of course though, was who was going to be Miller’s predecessor? Xavier fans were barely even given a chance to speculate before the school promoted assistant coach Chris Mack to the head coach position. “Wait a minute, who the heck is Chris Mack?” I thought to myself upon reading the news. It only took a Google search for me to realize that he was the perfect fit for the team.
See, Chris Mack is a Xavier guy, and this gig was definitely not a stepping stone deal for him, this was his dream job. Coach Mack grew up in Cincinnati, and was a Xavier alum, as well as a former player for the basketball team. He proved that he was an X guy when he left Wake Forest to return for a second stint as an assistant coach for the Musketeers.
I definitely had lofty long term expectations for what Coach Mack could do with the program, but was taking a realistic approach to the short term agenda. He was a rookie head coach after all, and I assumed it would take him a year to establish a strong team atmosphere, especially after losing four players to graduation or the NBA. As they so often are, my assumptions were proven to be null, but this time it was much to my delight.
Coach Mack and his players didn’t exactly start the season ablaze; however, after a few warm-up games and a couple of nail-biters, they really began to gel as a team. Despite not making an appearance in the top 25 until the last two weeks of the season, the team put together a great record finishing the year 26-9. It was a performance that was good enough to earn the Musketeers a share of the A-10 regular season championship.
It wasn’t just the players that were making a name for themselves this year though. Mack was named the Rookie Coach of the Year by the Basketball Times , as well as breaking the record for most wins as a Xavier rookie coach. He was also the only rookie coach to lead his team to the NCAA Tournament.
Showing no signs of inexperience, Chris Mack coached three outstanding games, including the instant-classic double overtime heartbreaker against Kansas State, a team that had blown them out early in the season. He constantly made the right choices with his defensive sets, and always had the ball in the hands of the right players at the right times on the offensive end. He had definitely installed his own system to the team, and it was working.
It doesn’t appear that Chris Mack plans on slowing down next season either, despite losing star guard Jordan Crawford to the NBA draft and rugged post man Jason Love to graduation. Mack will be putting his recruiting footstep down this year by bring in four highly touted recruits, three of which were in the Scout Inc. top 150 recruits list.
As the season went on, my memory of that dreaded ESPN ticker began to wear thinner and thinner. Instead, I would think of that one nervous Google search that led me to believe that Chris Mack was going to be the right guy for the job. Though Mack proved me wrong with my assumptions of him needing some time to develop as a coach by surpassing all expectations this season; I have proper reasoning to believe that he’s going to prove me right by being the perfect fit as the head coach of the Xavier University basketball team.