CRAWFORD | Five quick thoughts on Chris Mack to Louisville
Eric Crawford has five initial thoughts on Chris Mack becoming the new Louisville men's basketball coach.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – So Chris Mack it is. I know (per University of Louisville release) things aren’t completely official. I also know that a good number of Cardinal fans would drive literal Mack trucks through Grawemeyer Hall if university leaders messed this thing up now.
You picked Mack. There’s no going back.
So let’s just put that notion to rest.
No, Mack is on the way. He’ll become just the fifth full-time coach at Louisville since 1944, which is something in itself. Mind boggling, really. The United States has had 13 different presidents in that time. U of L has gone through eight presidents, seven acting presidents, and 12 football coaches (if you count Bobby Petrino twice.)
But there have only been four basketball coaches (excluding interims), and three of those are in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
So, no pressure.
When Bernard “Peck” Hickman took over as Louisville coach in 1944, having been lured away from Valley High school and despite a late bid from DuPont Manual High that might well have been more money than U of L was offering, Louisville’s basketball program was in the words of the great Courier-Journal columnist Joe Creason, “lower than a well digger’s instep.”
It’s not that low now, but it is in need of revival.
The man U of L athletic director Vince Tyra has chosen has shown uncommon loyalty to his alma mater, Xavier University, having spent 14 years there, five as an assistant coach. That kind of longevity is a plus for a program not used to switching horses very often.
Mack has paid his dues. He has coached high school girls’ basketball (varsity and junior varsity). He played college basketball, both at Evansville and at Xavier.
He has family ties to Louisville. He married the former Christi Hester, a basketball star herself at Dayton and Holy Cross in Louisville.
I don’t know Mack at all. We’ve never met. I was going to go cover a Xavier exhibition against Bellarmine back in 2011 but a Louisville basketball game got in the way. (Trivia: Mack is 1-1 against coach Scott Davenport and the Knights, who beat Xavier in an exhibition during their national championship season and lost 76-73 in the Cintas Center a year later.)
Having said all that, here are some early thoughts on the choice of Mack to take one of the premier seats in college basketball – even if it is a bit tarnished.
1). HIS ORDERLY EXIT FROM XAVIER IS COMMENDABLE. Mack, contrary to what anyone will tell you, didn’t talk at all about Louisville on Tuesday. He commented upon his next opportunity, but he never specifically talked publicly about his new coaching destination. That will happen this afternoon after a vote of the board of trustees.
What Mack did do was inform his players of his decision. He released a statement to the Xavier community. He spoke with some media in Cincinnati.
This is the way it should be. By virtue of his years in Cincinnati, and at Xavier, I can only think this sequencing of things is deliberate. He owed it to himself and that school to make a formal goodbye, and to separate it from the excitement of a new opportunity down the road.
That he’s been at Xavier as long as he has, that he hasn’t job-jumped all over the place, is a good sign.
Louisville is a place you can be for a long time. A lot of us are proof.
2). HE SHOULD LIKE THE TEAM HE MEETS WEDNESDAY. Recruiting has been non-existent, but the players slated to return are good ones, and good guys. The freshman class showed promise. Malik Williams, Jordan Nwora and Darius Perry all showed flashes this season. Lance Thomas we didn’t really see enough to know. And people forget this guy – Steven Enoch, a 6-11 260-pound transfer from Connecticut who sat out last season under NCAA transfer rules.
In the one practice I saw, the guy looked ready to start from Day 1. He was the piece, frankly, that last season’s team was missing, and can be a piece that Mack builds around.
Beyond that, Ryan McMahon made strides last season, is an incredibly heady player and a dangerous shooter. I also think Dwayne Sutton is Mack’s kind of player, hard-nosed, all-out.
I don’t expect Ray Spalding to return. He’s already said he will test the NBA Draft waters, and I expect scouts to like what they see.
Deng Adel is a different story. He could show enough in workouts to decide to make the leap, but there’s no question he’d benefit from another season, especially if Mack can develop his game further.
In short, Mack doesn’t inherit a bare cupboard, assuming everyone stays. That’s just something we’ll have to wait to find out about.
3). MACK WAS THE ONLY CHOICE. I’m not saying Mack was the only guy for the job. I’m saying Mack, in all reality, was the only guy seriously considered for the job. There’s some indication from multiple sources that there might have been some contact, in fact, when the job initially became open last fall.
Regardless, it’s clear that Mack wanted the job, which is important, because of the situation in which the school finds itself. Louisville needed to find someone who would be passionate about Louisville, and early indications are that Mack is such a coach. As David Padgett said in an interview with WDRB on Monday, time will tell.
In 2018, with legitimate questions raised by Jerry Eaves, Butch Beard and others about the school’s minority hiring in athletics leadership, it’s more than a head-scratcher that at least one minority candidate wasn’t seriously pursued or interviewed. As quickly as Tom Jurich hired Steve Kragthorpe to coach the football team after Bobby Petrino’s departure, he still met with Charlie Strong. These matters are important, especially in this community.
Nor did Tyra have a conversation with Scott Davenport, whose thoughts on this program are as insightful and worthy of consideration as anyone I’ve encountered, period.
Even if Tyra had made up his mind, and every indication from this process would say that he had, I think he missed an opportunity to hear some viewpoints that would’ve been beneficial.
None of that, however, should reflect on Mack. His goal was to be the Louisville basketball coach. There’s something to be said for a guy that embraces that goal under these circumstances.
ESPN’s Jeff Goodman said, “He’s viewed this as kind of a lifetime job, a job he’s grown up wanting.”
The salary, $4 million annually, which puts him among the handful of highest-paid coaches in college basketball, flies in the face of some of the fiscal responsibility we’ve heard preached from certain quarters of the board of trustees, which still must meet to approve his hiring today.
It’s also part of the price you pay for some of the instability in leadership at the university. It’s the cost of not having a president in place right now. It’s the cost of having uncertainty about some of the leadership.
4). HIS RECRUITING STYLE SHOULD BLEND WELL WITH THE CHALLENGE. By this I mean that Mack at Xavier has taken three-star guys and developed them at a high level. He’ll need to do that here – not exclusively, but perhaps early on.
Let’s face it, the ACC and Louisville’s facilities bring more recruiting expectations than he has faced, but they also bring more recruiting opportunities. They open doors that he hasn’t had before. You put a guy behind the wheel of a sports car and you can fairly well assume that he’s going to drive faster than he did before.
In the meantime, there seemed to be in the 24 hours after news leaked out no shortage of intrigue in his new position. A handful of players from around the country announced that they’d spoken with Mack or assistants, with some saying they were offered scholarships.
New Albany standout Romeo Langford’s father indicated to WDRB that Mack had reached out.
I’m not sure how exactly “street legal” that is in NCAA terms – and for a school in Louisville’s position, that’s of primary importance. A cryptic statement about the process not being complete or official in any way from a U of L spokesman late Tuesday could in fact have been part of an effort to indemnify itself from any practices that might be questioned.
Whatever the case, it is very common. Often the norm, and to be expected that when a coach goes from one school to the next, that offers that were previously in place likely will be transferred to the new destination. The way of the world.
At least one player who had committed to Mack at Xavier, graduate transfer Evan Boudreaux (17.5 points and 9.5 rebounds last season at Dartmouth), has re-opened his recruitment. It’s not a stretch to know where that new recruitment will end. The kid graduated from an Ivy League school in three years so he’s well capable of deciding what he wants to do. He’s just what the doctor ordered for Louisville, a strong and effective post player who can score with his face to the basket. He was the Ivy League’s rookie of the year as a freshman. His mother, Gail Koziara Boudreaux, was a college All-American and three-time Ivy League Player of the Year. She also was named one of Fortune magazine’s “50 Most Power Women in American Business” and was chosen one of Forbes’ “100 Most Powerful Women in the World.” She’s currently CEO of Anthem, Inc. If he becomes Mack's first Louisville recruit, he's a good one to get.
5). HE SHOULDN’T GET CAUGHT UP IN UNIVERSITY DRAMA. I don’t know what’s going on at U of L sometimes. I’m not sure what the statement from the university Tuesday night was about. There’s still more to come from a university that hasn’t yet made a decision on a president, and still faces major fund-raising challenges moving forward. There’s the whole NBA question, and whether the school would cooperate with an effort to move that agenda forward.
There are a hundred other things. Universities are supposed to be slow-moving ships whose movements are subtle and studied. Right now U of L is zig-zagging all over the place. It cut one of its all-time basketball greats, Darrell Griffith, from a fund-raising support role in a cost-cutting measure, then spent more than his salary on an athletics director search firm that apparently produced all of zero interviews, other than the guy who eventually got the job, who already had it as the interim.
So, that’s a net loss.
Contrary to popular belief, there have been some changes for the better at Louisville. Others, I’m not so sure about. Somebody over there needs to have more of a handle on the school’s public image.
Mack, moving forward, now is part of that image. He’s going to have to be beyond reproach. But he knows as well as anyone, the best public image is winning. He has set about that task before his feet even hit the ground in Louisville.
He has taken on a difficult task willingly, and a job that not everyone would embrace. He deserves the chance now to take it and run with it.
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