When did you become a Xavier fan? There’s a good chance that your answer to that question starts with the coach. Since 1980, Xavier has been loaded with coaching talent. Bob Staak started the Xavier renaissance by taking the team to their second NCAA bid and first since 1961 in 1983. From that point on, Xavier’s coaching roster is simply immense: Pete Gillen, Skip Prosser, Thad Matta, Sean Miller, and Chris Mack.
My earliest memories of the Musketeers involve Pete Gillen. Prior to this year, Gillen was the all-time leader in games coached and games won. What Staak had started, Gillen consolidated. Xavier tournament appearances went from being unicorns to being, if not expected, at least something that wasn’t outside the norm. Gillen has been rightfully feted as a Xavier legend, the I Ching of Xavier coaching.
When Chris Mack took over the team after the abrupt departure of Sean Miller, he immediately experienced success with the players Miller had abandoned. Mack’s first win was a 83-57 rolling of Youngstown St. Later that year, Xavier won a conference game by 48. Not until one of the genuinely epic games in NCAA history against Kansas State did that first team succumb.
Mack was stalked by the same issue that comes up with all replacement coaches. Sure, he won, but could he do it with guys he recruited? In the first year of just “his” players, Mack struggled to a 17-13 record and saw Landen Amos play significant minutes. Xavier missed the tournament that year for the first time since 04-05, Sean Miller’s first year.
Lean times didn’t last though. Mack’s next squad was in the tournament, and the year after that the Musketeers were back in the Sweet 16. Mack also led the team into the Big East and immediately ensconced them as the second beat program in the conference. In his tenure the Musketeers are 6-4 in the Big East tournament and 10-6 in the NCAA tournament, the most postseason wins for any Xavier coach.
And last night Mack took the regular season record as well. It was a vintage Mack team effort, with offense holding the day over defense, but one long defensive stand sealing the deal. Also in quintessential Mack form, he saw no reason to dwell long on #203, graciously accepting plaudits but reminding anyone who would listen that the team’s goals went far beyond a mid-January game at home. Xavier’s winningest coach of all time has his eye on March.