On Tuesday, the least surprising move in the history of college basketball’s coaching carousel became official. After years of speculation that Chris Mack would someday be the man to replace Rick Pitino at Louisville (dating back to when Pitino actually had the job last season) Mack was officially named to the position. He will earn right around $30 million over the next seven years for the move.
Before we get into the particulars, let’s first give some quick credit to new Louisville AD Vince Tyra. Ultimately there was only one real name on Louisville’s coaching search list, only one guy he could get who would have the full support of the fan-base, alumni and boosters. That man was Mack, and if Tyra couldn’t get him, well, he would have had a lot of explaining to do (admittedly, Trya probably wouldn’t have gotten the full-time AD job either, but that’s beside the point). Tyra got his man however, and we have officially entered a new era of Louisville basketball.
So with Mack now officially a Cardinal, it brings us to the most important question: What’s next for Louisville basketball? It’s a fair question and one that just about everyone is asking today as the Mack news spread across the college basketball world.
Well, let me be the latest in a long line of people to say that this was just about the perfect hire for Louisville. One that is good for Louisville itself, good for the rivalry with Kentucky and good for college basketball as a whole.
In terms of what kind of “coach” Louisville got, well, Mack is about as complete a package as their fan-base could have possibly hoped for. To use the most obvious cliché, Mack “checks all the boxes.” During his career at Xavier, Mack won right around 70 percent of his games, and showed an ability to win big in both the regular season and NCAA Tournament. In total, he won 20 or more games in eight of nine years as a head coach, and made the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in four of those seasons (that stat doesn’t even include this season, where the Musketeers were a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance). Mack also proved to be about as good of a recruiter as anyone can be at Xavier, finishing with the No. 11 class nationally a year ago. That’s not “John Calipari good.” But considering where he was recruiting to, it’s nearly as impressive. And it should only pick up now that he’s at an ACC school with significantly more resources.
But beyond his coaching success and recruiting prowess, the one thing I don’t think he gets enough credit for is as a “program builder.” Remember that when Mack took over as head coach at Xavier in 2009, the Musketeers were in the Atlantic 10, a spot where they weren’t quite a “mid-major” but not quite a “power conference team” either. And when Xavier joined the Big East five seasons ago, many wondered whether or not there would be a dip. After all, they were facing better competition, in a tougher league with more established programs at the time.
That’s also why I believe that what Mack did these last few years is a bit underappreciated if anything. Instead of taking a step back once they got to the Big East, Xavier actually got better, as Mack slowly built them into the second-best program in the entire league behind Villanova. Over the last three years Xavier finished second in the Big East in 2016 and won the league outright this year. And while everyone will look at a “down” year in 2017, when the Musketeers finished seventh in the league, remember that they were ranked in the Top 10 for most of November and December before a slew of injuries crippled them mid-season. Despite it, they still bounced back to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, advancing all the way to the Elite Eight.
But more than all the tangible things about Mack, there is one intangible thing that can’t be emphasized enough when it comes to this hire.
Hmm, how do I put this nicely…
Alright, I’ll just say it: HE’S NOT RICK PITINO.
If anything, he’s basically the exact opposite of Pitino. He’s younger (though balder), with a staggering amount of success, but also zero baggage. More importantly, he’s not a smug, egotistical or full of himself either (nor does he use hookers to get recruits to visit campus – at least that we know of). Instead, he’s the opposite, loose, fun and for the most part easy-going. He’s the kind of guy who jokes with the media. The kind of guy who posts pictures of his kids on Twitter. The kind of guy that is, call me crazy here, but “likeable.”
Hibachi night!! Brayden’s ready for “da ??? food” !! pic.twitter.com/Ty046zjh7i
— Chris Mack (@CoachChrisMack) March 20, 2018
Again, he’s the anti-Pitino. And whether you love Louisville, or – like most reading this article – hate them, that’s still a good thing for Louisville and their rivalry with Kentucky. Obviously it’s no secret that the hate will always be strong in the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry, but with Mack, there should now be a healthy respect. He’s the kind of guy that you want to beat because you hate his school and know he’s good, not because you’re genuinely repulsed every time his face is shown on TV. It’s the same on the national scale. Having Louisville basketball be successful is a good thing for college basketball. It’s good for TV ratings, good for the ACC, and good for the city as a whole. You know what’s not good? Having them be a national punch-line like they’ve been for so many years.
Now to the final question with Mack: “How good will he be?” Well, only time will tell. As mentioned above, he’s done quite a bit in nine years as a head coach, but the one thing he hasn’t done is had deep NCAA Tournament success. Ultimately that’s how he’ll be judged, especially when it comes to the guys he’s going up against in the ACC and with John Calipari in-state. So yes, Chris Mack still has something to prove. But in the end, if the only knock on a coach is that – less than a decade into his career – he hasn’t made a Final Four or won a national championship, there are a lot of coaches who don’t meet that threshold.
But as for everything else? Mack is a home run.
Tuesday was obviously a good day for Louisville.
But it was a good day for college basketball too.