TRANSCRIPT | New Louisville coach Chris Mack sits down with Eric Crawford and Tom Lane
A transcript of new Louisville coach Chris Mack's interview with Eric Crawford and Tom Lane of WDRB News.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – New Louisville coach Chris Mack is plenty busy these days, but he took some time on Wednesday to sit down with WDRB’s Tom Lane and Eric Crawford. A transcript of their conversation below:
TOM LANE: There was some consternation over what coach would take the Louisville job in this situation. Why was this a good time for you to take this job and why do you think you're the right guy for the job?
CHRIS MACK: I don't know if 'good time,' so much as a good situation, is why I took the job. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that there's been a little bit of a cloud over the program, especially the last season prior to, but to me that doesn't take away from the program's potential. It's one of the most storied programs in all of college basketball. You have a passionate fan base. You have resources and facilities that are second to none. So for me, I don't know if it was so much about time as it was about opportunity.
LANE: Recruits, I would guess, are Job One, and that would include the current players. Have you had meetings with them and how have they gone?
MACK: They've been going great. I think making those guys feel at home, and understanding that they chose the University of Louisville for a reason, as did I, that this is the right place for them as we move forward. That's Job One. And I think the player meetings have been going well. You'd probably have to ask those guys, as well. But this is just a time to build that trust, build a relationship. And that doesn't happen overnight, but I'm confident that what we've built so far, some of those guys I've had previous relationships with, because I recruited them while I was at Xavier, I feel like are going in the right direction. And recruiting never stops. Whether it's your current team or whether it's our future team players that we have to add along the way, whether it's a grad student, a sit-out transfer, a high school student-athlete, we're looking at all ways, shapes, sizes, forms, you name it.
ERIC CRAWFORD: In meeting with players, do you meet with them, hang out in other settings, is it more listening or talking or all of the above?
MACK: Everything, from individual player meetings to tell me about your experience at Louisville, why'd you choose Louisville, what don't you like, what do you like, to informal sit-downs, to being in the gym with our players to eating dinner with them, breakfast with them, just spending time, having them understand this isn't just about employee-employer, player-coach, I want to get to know them on a different level, and I want the same. I want them to know who I am and what's important to me. It's just takes time. You don't build a relationship in a couple of days, and I think we're heading in the right direction.
CRAWFORD: Did you get to talk to Ray Spalding before his announcement?
MACK: Not much. It's sort of a whirlwind on the day of the press conference. You get 45 minutes to meet as a team, and I had a few minutes with each player, and because I had known Ray and he'd been on so many different visits to Xavier over the years, I just sort of gave him a nod that I'd be in touch. We texted all that night and the next day, and I really started getting a sense after talking to Ray, after talking to Coach (Mike) Szabo at Trinity, I wasn't surprised, let's put it that way, that he kept his name in the draft, and hoping for really good things for his future.
CRAWFORD: How did you get into the game of basketball? Go way back, how did you start and where was that passion born?
MACK: You know, sort of get in your dad's station wagon and go over to a big rec building and you have no idea what's going on and he signs you up. Next thing you know I'm out there in layup lines and I think at least in 2018 it may be different, but when I grew up you sort of played the sport that was in season. So if you ask me what's my favorite sport and it was June I probably would've told you baseball. So it was baseball, soccer, basketball. And then as I got older, sort of my later grade school years, I really felt like it was something I was pretty good at, but I had an insatiable appetite to get better. And you know, you don't need many teammates, many friends, when you're learning the game and working on your skill. You just need a basketball and a hoop, and sometimes you don't even need a hoop, if you're working on your ballhandling. So I just fell in love with it. I happened to have a couple of friends of mine that were older who were stars and kept me star-struck and excited to keep getting better at it every day.
CRAWFORD: And your dad coached you? He wasn't a coach but he did coach you?
MACK: He did. I wouldn't call him a basketball coach. I didn't grow up with my dad as my varsity coach, he was just the attorney who said, 'OK, I'll be the baseball assistant,' or 'I'll be the rec league basketball coach.' He was awesome. I didn't worry about the skills he taught me. It was more the life lessons of competing, being a good sport, handling winning, handling losing. I looked up to him like every son does to his father, and I'm very, very appreciative the older I get, how much time he spent coaching our various teams, soccer, baseball, basketball teams. For an attorney that has his own practice to do that says a lot about who my dad is.
CRAWFORD: And you coached your daughters, or tried to?
MACK: I tried to. I got fired after the first year. It was kind of funny to watch some of the grade school coaches on the other sideline when they beat me, their arms up in the air. It was already hard enough to lose to the Seton Halls and Villanovas of the world, now I'm losing to Mother of Mercy and different grade schools around town.
LANE: Were you always thinking coaching? Was it in the back of your mind as a player?
MACK: Not really. I think when you're a young athlete all you think about is playing forever, and all the older people are just older. Injuries really derailed my career at Xavier. And it gave me a time that I didn't want. I was thrown on the sideline. I was forced to rehab when I came to practice. I wasn't allowed to practice. So I saw the game through a different lens. Rather than one person, I saw it through all 10 people on the floor. And I always had a pretty keen sense of picking up things on the offensive and defensive end as a player, but that's really where it started to really come out and being able to see the game holistically, like a coach sees it. And then, as I got out of my playing years because of injuries and trying to go overseas, but I couldn't get my knee right, and I came back, and eventually, as you probably know, I was a JV girls' coach. And that just happened by chance. My sister was on a varsity team at McCauley High School, and they were without a JV coach, and the varsity coach said, 'Hey, I know your brother's in town, do you think he'd want to coach JV?' Who the hell wants to coach JV girls' basketball? But you know, I realized very quickly it was a chance to still be around a team, and there's something special about that. I feel bad for people who play competitive sports their whole life and the only sense of team they may get is the company they work for. It's just not the same. Some companies are, but it's just not the same as you sport you fell in love with, so that's why I've stuck with it. I just can't give it up, and couldn't give it up. I never thought it would be a full-time job. I thought I'd be a guy doing sales calls and then figuring out how to get to a JV or varsity practice later on in the day. But I got lucky.
LANE: How do you feel you've evolved as a head coach in your nine years?
MACK: I think No. 1 I trust my assistants more. Figuring out who is on your staff is always difficult, but it's easier the older you get and more established you get as a head coach, because you really get what you sort of need. Maybe not what you want, but what you need. So I think that helps you make the right type of hires. And then you trust those guys. And I don't have to be everywhere all the time, because I have a lot of people who are smart, who are doing it the right way, and that's really helpful for our players.
CRAWFORD: You're pretty well-known around my business as being a guy who is open. Did the newsletter, where you'd send out information on coaching to anybody, your practices have always been open, what's been your philosophy around that? Some places are like a CIA secret meeting. What's been your approach and will that continue at Louisville?
MACK: It's just a culmination of my experiences. No. 1 I was with arguably the best person whose ever been in the sport in Skip Prosser. And coach was so genuine and so open with his time, open with his practices, and as the years have gone on, it's 2018, there are no secrets. If you don't want somebody to know your plays, they're going to figure them out watching Synergy or getting stuff online. It's just everywhere. So I would rather be more open with that. I'm always trying to learn. Trying to learn new technology, trying to learn new techniques, new programs, you name it. And I think other people are like that. So it's full disclosure here at Louisville. That's just how I've always been. Again, I know that there are a lot more eyes and a lot more ears and a lot more people who are following the program than where I came from, but I don't want that to change who I am and how I operate and how we operate.
CRAWFORD: I know this is a whole new coaching situation, but how much do you hear Skip Prosser, or Pete Gillen, as you sit down and think about how you want to map things out?
MACK: Those guys are the influences that drive me to make the decisions that I do today. Sean Miller is another one. He and I worked hand-in-hand at Xavier for five years, and he was awfully good to me and trusted me with a lot during my time as an assistant. I think you're a culmination of all your experiences, whether it's as a player, whether that's as an assistant coach, certainly I have some coaching friends around the country who have their own programs or assist for other programs that I may bounce something off of, but as I said in my press conference, I really tend to lean heavily on my staff, because they know the personality of a Jordan Nwora, or a Darius Perry, versus getting an opinion from an outsider.
CRAWFORD: I asked some fans, what would you like to know? One thing that came up is, 'Will there be a Midnight Madness?' I think they've seen where you had fun with that at Xavier?
MACK: I'd say it's a possibility. But, you know, logistics, how that's seen, what's the tradition that they've had here. But I want to do some things that are different, and things that are new that will bring excitement to the fan base. But to say, hey these are the changes that are going to be made if I haven't spoken to Vince about them or gotten the history from Kenny, we'll see how things sort of play out. But I can tell you, it was a great event for us at Xavier. We actually waited for a week, it wasn't the beginning of college basketball. I wanted our guys to practice, to have a sense of how we wanted to play, and then I wanted to see them out in front of fans, because if a guy is turning the ball over five or six times in Midnight Madness because he's deer in the headlights, we've got to address that, he's got to get better at it. So that was a way for us to see an audition before it really counted.
LANE: What will people see in a Chris Mack team?
MACK: I think you can't be the master of everything, but I'd like to think that people, when they think of teams I've coached, would think, 'Man those guys are tough.' Both mentally and physically. I want to make sure that's stamped in here in terms of our culture and how we're perceived. And I don't know if that's been said about the Louisville team here in the last year or two. So that's a big job. But I think that sort of encompasses a lot of other things. We want to be a team that pushes the ball, that does what the game tells us to do on the offensive end. Pushing the ball doesn't mean being reckless and throwing the ball all over the place. Playing together. How we play offensively will be dictated by what our players can do -- putting them in good positions to succeed. Defensively, we want to be primarily a man-to-man team that doesn't take chances, that doesn't take risks, because there's always a risk-reward, for every steal you get, there's always a layup. So we want to be more positional based, and be a tough team to score against and, again, a tough team on the glass. You're going to hear that word a lot -- tough.
CRAWFORD: You've coached against Villanova a lot, you won their league this year, what are they doing right now that's better, maybe, than a lot of other people?
MACK: They have a culture that is rarely seen, rarely seen. They don't have overwhelming talent. Not one of those guys are going to be drafted in the top 5-10 in the draft. Michael Bridges may be close, but he was a redshirt freshman who was too skinny to play as a true freshman. What they have is a togetherness, a tenaciousness, a culture that Jay has done an amazing job. I think it really starts with high-character kids that care more about, 'how is the team doing,' than 'how is me doing,' something that's hard to get. Envious. But at the same time, we're working in that direction here at Louisville.
CRAWFORD: You can't build it overnight, and that makes it hard to replicate?
MACK: No. And he didn't either. If you look at his career and the history of his teams, he was going along for a while and got to a Final Four, and then there was a dip. And during that dip, you know, he'll tell you, he took some of the wrong players (Lane: "Probably had higher rated classes in that time"), which is wild. You know, now he's taking a kid like Colin Gillispie who is a little-used freshman this year but he played, I don't know how many Division I scholarship offers he had. Now, make no mistake, you need talent. Jalen Brunson was a McDonald's All-American for a reason. But you have to have, in my opinion, high-character talent, talent that is willing to be coached, and Jay has that, and that's what we're looking to get here at Louisville.
LANE: I've got to get confirmation on something. I know you were persona non grata at Dayton for a while, is that because you were bouncing a ball off a guy's face when you were inbounding?
MACK: That was part of it. It happened twice, but I was the culprit the second time, sort of instructed, and Coach Crews and I have made amends, but I was following coach's orders. Was getting close to a five count and bounced it off his nose, and unfortunately I was the second guy on our team to do so, so everybody thought I had done it twice, and it became a deal where benches were held back, kind of thing. I 'm not too welcome in Dayton.
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