It is fashionable in Xavier circles to discuss the program as if it has arrived. This is understandable. After all, Xavier won the Big East this year, was a #1 seed in the tournament, secured a #2 seed two years ago, lands major recruits, has become a fixture in the top 10 of both major polls, and the top 20 of most reputable metrics. All that said, the Musketeers are still just on the cusp of joining the true blue bloods. The drama of the next few days, or even hours, threatens to undo some of that work.
Losing Chris Mack to Louisville would damage the program in multiple ways. First, and possibly most obviously, simply in terms of coaching talent. When Coach Mack took over he was raw and sometimes struggled to adjust in game. Now, he’s running sets and gameplanning at an elite level. Rare indeed are the games where he gets outcoached. Even in Xavier’s loss to FSU the idea that Leonard Hamilton somehow got the better of him is ludicrous when examined with any serious objectivity. Last season, Mack duct taped together a roster deprived of its two best guards and rode guile and Trevon Bluiett to the Elite Eight. There just aren’t many out there currently doing it better than he does.
Secondly, Xavier would take a hit in recruiting. This means in luring players like Trevon Bluiett away from UCLA, landing top 100 guys like Quentin Goodin, Naji Marshall, and Paul Scruggs, and working the transfer wire to bring in a player like Kerem Kanter. The assistant coaches do a lot of the legwork, but they also frequently leave with the head coach. Even if they don’t, none of them are yet established enough names yet to have the cachet that Coach Mack does.
Finally, Xavier would take a major hit in terms of where the program is. For a school to be among the elite, it has to have some stability. Williams at UNC, Self at Kansas, Wright at Villanova, Izoo at MSU, and on the list goes. Top level schools don’t lose their all time winningest coach, who also happens to be a hometown boy and alum, to places staring down the barrel of probation. Xavier has, fairly or not, been portrayed as a coaching stepping stone. While Louisville would be a step to a much nicer place than Virginia was for Gillen or Wake for Prosser, there would be no argument that once again Xavier had been left for a perceived greener pasture. That’s not a thing that should happen to the defending Big East champion unless the NBA comes calling.
It’s possible that Xavier emerges from this latest scare with a coaching staff intact and Chris Mack’s familiar blue shirt prowling the sideline next year. It’s also possible that the next wave of coaching talent has a crest that carries the Musketeers into the Final Four. After all, when Sean Miller left it was hard to imagine that he’d be replaced by a better coach, but he was. However, the immediate aftermath of a coaching change is unlikely to be pretty. For now, Xavier Nation is left with only the hope that Chris Mack has found the stone he wants to call home.