BOZICH | Louisville's Chris Mack hire: What to like AND what to watch
Louisville has settled on Xavier's Chris Mack as the replacement for Rick Pitino as the Cardinals' basketball coach. What to like and what to watch about the new Louisville coach.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — There was soaring rhetoric and celebration when the University of Louisville confirmed that Xavier coach Chris Mack was the guy athletic director Vince Tyra selected as the school’s next basketball coach Wednesday.
Understand it. Expect it. Encourage it.
Louisville fans are as as earnest as any in the game. They have earned their Go Crazy Moment.
That’s what you’re supposed to do when you recruit a basketball coach. It’s happened twice at Louisville since 1971, and both times the school hired a future Hall of Famer. It’s a special program in a town that loves college basketball more than any town in America.
You got a coach who was comfortable stamping himself as Joe Everyman by Tweeting about having a pre-game meal at Burger King Wednesday.
But as the adrenaline subsides and celebration winds down, it’s reasonable to zoom out for a 360-degree look at Chris Mack — as it would be with Shaka Smart, Gregg Marshall, Mike White, Buzz Williams, Matt Painter, Kenny Payne or anybody Louisville did not hire or likely interview with Tyra's unlikely laser-focus on Mack.
Like every coach who’s survived the college basketball shark tank, Mack comes with questions as well as answers, achievements as well as fine print.
You can look at his record and see what you want to see.
A 2018 Big East regular season title as well as eight seasons of 21 or more victories. Thus, the adrenaline and ovation.
Mack wanted to be here and that was not something you could say about other names who discussed. A source told me that for several years Mack made certain people in the U of L athletic administration understood that he wanted the job whenever Rick Pitino stepped away. So passion was another box Mack checked.
The record also showed that two of his former players made the Yahoo! Sports Report as guys who allegedly received money from the representative of an agent being investigated by the federal government.
Yes, that would be the same representative (Christian Dawkins) who helped lead to the dismissal of U of L coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich. According to Forde, former Xavier players Semaj Christon and Edmond Sumner were the players listed.in expense reports and balance sheets seized from ASM Sports Agency.
The Yahoo story said there were multiple mentions of cash advances paid to Sumner and his father, Ernest, while Sumner was at Xavier. The story said the advances totaled at least $7,000. That's not $100,000 to a 5-star recruit with parents living in the Galt House, but that's not a T-shirt and a trip to Burger King.
I asked Tyra if he was aware and concerned by the allegations, considering Louisville's recent interactions with the NCAA.
"We talked about those individual players and their circumstances, how they got to Xavier and what possibly could have happened during that time," Tyra said.
"One in particular, the one that we heard about was a 2-star player that we thought it was a little comical that he would be named anyways. We felt like that was one where (Mack) found a diamond in the rough. It’s not someone (people) would know about, that an agent would be after.
"We couldn’t find anything to it. We certainly tried to do all the background we could. We have a little more insight than most from the FBI. We couldn’t find it."
Mack’s Xavier program earned a Number One seed in the 2018 NCAA Tournament as well as a Two seed in 2016. But his overall NCAA Tournament record is 11-8. Neither of his top two teams survived the first weekend of the tournament.
Mack is respected for his ability to evaluate and develop players who outperformed their recruiting rankings. Three of his last four Xavier teams were ranked in the Top 20 in offensive efficiency in Ken Pomeroy’s computer metrics.
The record also shows at least five guys who embarrassed the program with off-the-court behavior, including several who left the Xavier program under questionable circumstances.
If Mack’s big moment was guiding his team to a first-place finish (ahead of national championship favorite) Villanova in the Big East this season, his most regrettable moment had to be Xavier’s brawl with crosstown rival Cincinnati in 2011. That led to the officials calling the game with 9.4 seconds to play in Xavier’s home Cantatas Center arena as well as the series being moved to a neutral site for several seasons.
That’s not a template for the Louisville-Kentucky series, which has always been fierce but not violent.
It doesn’t mean Mack is the wrong choice. Or that he is a great one. It simply means that Mack is a choice to keep your eyes on.
He might get Louisville to the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference as well as another banner to hang in the KFC Yum! Center — or he might make Board of Trustees president David Grissom, interim university president Dr. Greg Postel and Tyra look silly and unwilling to do their homework because they dismissed concerns you can uncover about Mack and Xavier in a basic Google search.
There is the expected praise from the college basketball world and string of victories that you would expect from most candidates for a Top 10 job.
There are also more warts than I expected Louisville to accept as the program hits the reset button, considering the issues that forced Louisville to make a move from Pitino, Mack’s Hall of Fame predecessor.
Speaking of Hall of Famers, that’s the kind of money that Louisville will pay Mack — about $4 million per year for seven seasons -- with a chance for the coach to earn incentives and increased pay later in his deal, that also features a $6 buyout.
According to the USA Today salary database, six college coaches earned $4 million or more during the 2017-18 season. Four — Mike Krzyzewski (Duke), John Calipari (Kentucky), Bill Self (Kansas) and Tom Izzo (Michigan State) — are Hall of Famers who have won national titles and made multiple Final Fours.
One was Chris Holtmann of Ohio State. But his compensation — $7.1 million — is misleading because more than half that sum was targeted for Holtmann’s buyout at Butler. The sixth guy was Arizona’s Sean Miller, Mack’s former boss at Xavier.
This is a coach who has never taken a team to the Final Four as well as a guy with an NCAA Tournament winning percentage of .579 (11 wins, 8 defeats). Mack has work to do to put his name in the same paragraph with Coach K, Calipari and the others who have already been inducted in Springfield, Mass.
Louisville paid a premium because it had to pay a premium considering the problems that have percolated around the program since October 2015. Mack also had to trust Louisville as much as Louisville must trust him because the NCAA could punish the school again for its involvement with former recruit Brian Bowen, the player connected to Dawkins. More probation could be on the schedule. If it comes, Tyra said that time will be added to Mack's contract.
Mack had an idyllic situation at Xavier. He grew up in Cincinnati. Played and coached there at Xavier, his alma mater. Other programs have flirted with him. He’s only had eyes for Louisville. Knowing that as well as the vulnerabilities at U of L, Mack had the leverage in this negotiation.
I consider the success with the contract Chris Mack’s first victory.
There will be others, in recruiting, connecting with fans, rebuilding the Louisville brand and competing against Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Jim Boeheim, Tony Bennett as the other Atlantic Coast Conference titans. That's why he took the assignment.
Chris Mack might be a great choice as the next Louisville basketball coach. He might be a misfire. But he’s certainly a choice that all of college basketball will be watching.
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