On Saturday part one of this story addressed three things Xavier needs to do to change the narrative and get the program heading back in the right direction. Solving the recruiting problem, winning something noteworthy, and finding a positive for this year are all things that need to happen, but they aren’t all of the story.
#4. Share the plan: It’s very likely that the Xavier administration and the basketball program have a plan in place for the next few years. If you know anything about large corporations or institutions, it’s that they love to have meetings and things like “strategic visions.” What is not always apparent about those large institutions and corporations is what, exactly, the plan is. It’s very easy to spit out buzzwords or hide behind a cloak of secrecy, it’s much more difficult to let people know why it is that you do what you do.
In the last year, it has been difficult to tell exactly why it is that Xavier is doing what it does. A lack of quick and effective communication has left the administration looking out of touch. A string of public relations nightmares has been prolonged by an inability to quickly and neatly clear up a problem. Part of the reason for this is that the university just is not communicating the plan very well to the public at large. If the plan is winning with a squeaky clean record, that’s fine, but someone needs to step up, say it, and then explain how recent reactions have fit into that framework. A little transparency goes a very long way toward smoothing over some of the ruffled feathers of the last year.
#5. Don’t panic: There are going to be some big losses this year. The Crosstown Shootout (Crosstown Non-Violent Encounter? Crosstown Dance-off? Whatever they call it), Butler, and Memphis could all be absolute routs. There are absolutely going to be some ugly games out there, and some of them are going to be complete annihilations on national television. Being a Xavier fan, player, coach, or administrator is not going to be as easy as it has been in recent years. Regardless of that, panic cannot creep in.
Mike Leach, Jim Mora, Mike Gundy, all those names are synonymous with massive press conference meltdowns. While it is difficult to imagine Chris Mack screaming “I’m a man, I’m 40!” at anyone, his caustic wit would certainly play on the national level. It might not seem like it right now, but the media vultures will be circling Xavier this year. At the first sign of things coming apart at the seams, dissension in the locker room or, Heaven forbid, another fight, the walls will start closing in, especially on the coach.
Local hacks like Lance McAlister are going to be on Mack, pushing and waiting for a reaction. The Bearcats are going to be decent, the Reds are in the playoffs, and the Bengals have a chance, but nothing sells like a meltdown. It’s why you can remember Ben Johnson’s spectacular flameout after winning Olympic gold in 1988, but forget that Linford Christie won four years later. No one wants just the positive, and the city of Cincinnati is hanging over Xavier right now, hoping that things go south in the form of a public explosion. It’s ugly, but it is human nature, and Coach Mack and the Musketeers cannot let a public panic give the huddled masses yet another debacle at which to crow.
#6. Play with some fight: Mark Lyons, at once loved and derided by Xavier fans, brought a swagger to the court that was impossible to miss. Most of that probably came from knowing that no team in the nation was going to roll the Musketeers. Indeed, Xavier could play with the very best in the game when things were going well. Of course, that isn’t the case this year, but that fight cannot go away. Games are going to be lost, but the attitude cannot be. The pride that has imbued the program is well-deserved and doesn’t need to go away because of one down year.
There is something in our culture that glorifies the defiant underdog. The Spartans at Thermopylae, The Charge of the Light Brigade, and John Paul Jones’ “I have not yet begun to fight” all remain in the collective conscious despite having occurred hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago. This Xavier team is unlikely to achieve that level of historical significance (sorry, it’s still just basketball) but people rally to the scrappy loser who refuses to go down without a fight. Xavier needs to dig in in order to retain their current standing in the college basketball world. Coach Mack can impress current players and potential recruits alike simply by refusing to give up.
#7. Suck me back in: This is a bit more ethereal than the other six, I’ll admit that. The Banners staff, while prepping for our annual half marathon, was discussing the state of sport for those of us who support Ohio teams. Specifically, we stake our fanhood to the Cleveland Indians and Browns, and Xavier basketball. For years, Xavier has been the lifeline for the few people who have no chance at seeing any sort of playoff victory any other way. Each March, Xavier fans can count on seeing at least one their teams doing something that they can be proud of, something that they can talk about at the water cooler in the office the next. Each March, Xavier fans get approached by people who pronounce it X-avier and congratulated for their team doing something. Sweet 16s, Elite Eights, a string of appearances and advancements rivaled only by the major powers in college basketball are all things that Xavier fans can hang their collective hat on.
But not this year. This year, the Cleveland Indians played the worst month in franchise history, the Browns are 0-5, and Xavier is going to be bad, no matter how many platitudes they trot out about competing and the bunker mentality that is settling in around the Cintas. Xavier fans are just begging for a team to be excited about. I don’t know how they can do it, exactly, but I’m begging this Xavier team: Pull me in, give me a reason to watch. February is awful enough anyway, give me a ray of hope.