Louisville is finishing the rockiest season in program history. It might even go down as the most tumultuous season ever in college basketball, and reportedly, the program would like nothing more than to end 2017-18 on a high note and hire Xavier coach Chris Mack.
The Cardinals may have caught a break Sunday with No. 1 seeded Xavier exiting the 2018 NCAA Tournament. With his season ending earlier than expected, Mack can now look ahead to 2018-19 and decide whether he wants to explore new opportunities.
Despite the fortunate break, though, Louisville’s coaching situation is far from resolved.
For one thing, the verdict is still out on the Cardinals season because the NIT could impact David Padgett’s future at Louisville. The Cardinals won their first two games of the NIT and will face Mississippi State for a chance to reach the tournament’s final four.
It’s unclear how the Louisville athletic department will view the Cardinals success in the NIT, and surely, one would think, Louisville will have to at least make the tournament’s final round for it to make a difference. However, that possibility is still on the table, complicating matters even though Mack is available.
Furthermore, while the Cardinals missed the NCAA Tournament, many argued after their exclusion that they deserved a bid instead of ACC rival Syracuse. The Orange have taken advantage of their good fortune and are heading to the Sweet 16 this weekend.
With multiple scandals to deal with this season, Padgett keeping Louisville together enough to even be on the bubble eight days ago was an accomplishment in of itself. Perhaps the Cardinals athletic department was going to go in another direction anyway, but the fact the NCAA Tournament committee made a questionable decision to exclude Louisville shouldn’t make or break Padgett’s future with the Cardinals.
Another factor to consider, though, are the other job openings, and those schools could potentially have a head start on hiring Mack away from Xavier before Louisville. Pitt and UConn are the other big-named basketball programs with openings and neither are still alive in a postseason tournament.
If Louisville is out of the NIT with a loss Tuesday, then it’s a moot point, but the possibility of those schools having a head start in the interview process does exist. When it’s all said and done, Mack could have his choice to run any of those three schools.
And that’s only if Mack decides to leave Xavier, which is the third and final major factor in Louisville’s potential coaching search. Dating all the way back to the early 1980’s, Xavier has been a hot bed for up-and-coming coaches. The five Musketeers coaches prior to Mack — Sean Miller, Thad Matta, Skip Prosser, Pete Gillen and Bob Staak — all experienced great success at Xavier and then moved on to a Power 5 program. No one would be surprised if Mack is next.
However, Mack is also different than those five coaches in that he is from Cincinnati and played at Xavier. He very well might not want to leave home.
And unlike with all five of those coaches, Xavier is no longer in a “secondary” conference. The Big East isn’t what it used to be, but it’s still more highly regarded than the A-10 or the old Midwestern Collegiate Conference.
There are even analysts who would argue the Big East has featured some of the best basketball over the last couple years. Villanova joined Xavier as a No. 1 seed in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, and three other Big East schools joined them in the field of 68.
The one thing Xavier hasn’t provided Mack that Louisville, Pitt or UConn likely would is higher pay. But again, because the Musketeers are in the Big East, higher pay at Xavier isn’t out of the question.
It’s not the perfect comparison because Villanova has been an elite program since the dawn of the Big East, but Wildcats coach Jay Wright makes $2.5 million per season as the highest-paid coach in the conference. That ranks 24th in the country. Should Mack string together a few more elite seasons at Xavier, one would think a raise is very likely.
If Louisville is going to land Mack, the Cardinals might not only have to outbid Pitt and UConn, but they may also need to make it worth his while because he’ll be leaving his hometown and alma mater.
So while Xavier losing early in the NCAA Tournament is a good thing on the surface, if Mack is indeed the top basketball coach for Louisville next season, there’s still a lot of moving parts. For all we know, the early exit could inspire Mack to stay at Xavier to complete unfinished business.
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