The worst-kept secret of this year’s college basketball coaching carousel was officially made public Tuesday, when multiple outlets reported that Chris Mack would leave Xavier after nine seasons to fill the head coaching vacancy at Louisville.
Mack and Louisville reportedly agreed to a seven-year deal, which should give the 48-year-old plenty of time to settle in and right a program still reeling after the NCAA Committee on Infractions vacated the Cardinals’ 2013 national championship and 2012 Final Four appearance. It’s also a clean break from Rick Pitino, who was fired in October, and a big-name hire that allows the Cardinals to look ahead even as they await results of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball recruiting.
Mack was long rumored to be the front-runner for the Louisville job — the school announced last week that 33-year-old David Padgett, who served as interim head coach this season, would not be retained — for a number of reasons.
The Cincinnati native and former Xavier player had seemingly reached a pinnacle at his alma mater. This year marked Xavier’s eighth NCAA tournament appearance in Mack’s nine-year tenure and, after managing to dethrone Villanova and win the program’s first Big East regular season title, the Musketeers earned their first No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. (They lost to ninth-seeded Florida State in the tournament’s second round.) Mack was named the Big East coach of the year.
Those close to Mack had said what he liked best about Xavier was the family atmosphere. His parents live in Cincinnati, and they got to watch his three children grow up.
“This PLACE has always had my heart,” Mack wrote in a farewell message posted on social media. “Like every former player from X, I will be cheering for the Muskies every chance I get, especially on that night once a year we beat those guys from Clifton,” he wrote, referencing the school’s rivalry with the University of Cincinnati.
But Mack has family in Louisville, too; his wife Christi is a native, and her parents still reside in the city. With the Cardinals, Mack remains near his family and earns a significant salary bump — ESPN reported that Mack’s deal is worth “about $4 million” per year in salary. At Xavier, Mack’s paycheck was just under $1.7 million per year, according to USA Today’s most recent coaching salaries database.
With the move, Mack also becomes the latest in a long line of Xavier coaches who have had success in Cincinnati before moving on to bigger programs. From Pete Gillen to Skip Prosser, from Thad Matta to Sean Miller (Mack’s direct predecessor), the Musketeers haven’t made a bad men’s basketball hire in decades.
But if they can’t keep a hometown hero around — even as they compete for Big East championships — there’s a fair question to be asked about the attractiveness of Xavier’s head coaching job. For now — for Chris Mack, at least — it remains a steppingstone.
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