The mass exodus from Xavier may not be as mass as we were originally led to believe. When Chris Mack left for Louisville, the fear was that he was taking most of the coaching staff and support staff with him, When Mario Mercurio showed up for the press conference announcing Mack, it was considered fait accompli that he and Matt Jennings would follow Luke Murray and Mike Pegues out the door.
Today, Xavier officials have confirmed that isn’t the case. Mercurio and Jennings are remaining, as is Director of Basketball Operations Jeremy Growe. Xavier’s desire for continuity was a large part of why Travis Steele became the head coach, retaining more of the infrastructure around him can only help. This leaves at least two gaps still remaining in Steele’s staff, but it gives him the building blocks of a program that can seamlessly transition from being Mack’s to being his.
The biggest part of that is Mario Mercurio. If you see something involving the Xavier basketball program, there’s a good chance that Mario has had a hand in it. Mercurio handles everything from Xavier’s non-conference schedule, to uniform creation and selection, to arranging flights. If the head coach is the brain of the team on the court, Mario is the spine that holds all the disparate pieces together. Replacing him would have been a massive task and any replacement would already be behind the eight ball for this season. A staff built around Mario and Steele would have at least had the major parts in place. That more are returning is an added bonus.
Jeremy Growe comes back as the liason between the team and the rest of the school. In addition to that, he stands a very good chance of being named an assistant coach, perhaps as early as Wednesday. Growe has been with the team for nine years now and is frequently seen on game days leaning in to whisper to Coach Steele. Also returning is head strength and conditioning coach Matt Jennings. Jennings was vital in the physical transformation of JP Macura and Trevon Bluiett and is a very large part of why you never see a Xavier team get physically bullied. The man also crushes a softball.
When a head coach leaves it’s not just his departure but also the surrounding fallout that cripples programs. Xavier has avoided a lot of that peripheral damage by handing off to an internal candidate and holding onto irreplaceable pieces of the staff. There may yet be a dip in Xavier’s performance, but the future remains bright on Victory Parkway.