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No way out but through, part II

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Coaching transitions aren't always smooth. If Xavier has the right guy in Travis Steele, some growing pains will be worth the end result.

St John’s v Xavier
If it helps, he's not enjoying this either.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

How long is a rebuild supposed to take?

That's what this is, by the way: an almost total rebuild. Xavier lost two program-defining players, two physically and strategically massive centers, Kaiser Gates, and an excellent head coach less than 2 years ago.

One full recruiting cycle and a season and a half of up and down play later, a vocal minority of fans on social media are ready to cut bait on a head coach who has been in the program for more than a decade and is still barely a generation older than his players.

Fans yearning for the good times of the Mack Era would be well-served to take in a little bit of the context of his transition to the head chair. Riding with a program legend in Tu Holloway and a solid reserve of talent, he made the tournament his first three years as head coach, partly thanks to being able to roll the A10. Just when it came time to move to the Big East, things hit a hiccup. Mack was at the helm of a 17-14 year that went nowhere, followed by a 0th-round exit the next season. His initial recruiting efforts were spotty enough that Erik Stenger started a handful of Big East games and Landen Amos got meaningful minutes.

The administration didn't cut bait, and the fanbase reaped the rewards.

Farther back, Sean Miller took the reins of an Elite 8 team from Thad Matta and - admittedly hampered by a lot of departing talent - turned in a 17-14 season that sputtered to an end in the A10 tournament. A year later, he had a 17-10 nowhere near the bubble that took advantage of the #1, #3, and #4 four seeds in the conference tournament getting upset to take home the auto bid as the #10 seed.

I don't know if the school would have moved on from him if he had missed the tournament and won fewer than 20 games in each of his first two seasons, but if so, they would have missed out on a top-level coaching talent.

To go afield for a moment, you could also consider the case of Nova coach Jay Wright. After being hired from Hofstra, he missed the tournament his first three years and accumulated a 21-27 record in Big East games. The Wildcats stuck with him, and there is mounting evidence to suggest that they made the right decision in so doing.

Travis Steele is 38 years old. Sean Miller was 36 in his first season at X; Jay Wright and Chris Mack were both 40 when they took over at Nova and Xavier, respectively. Each coach had some growing pains. Each program was rewarded for riding them out.

Despite some ugly results at times, there is a lot to like about what Travis Steele is doing. He has the team playing hard and playing together; even his harshest critic can't credibly deny that. He has shown himself to be tactically flexible, running a variety of defensive systems and experimenting with both two-big and four-guard lineups as personnel allow. Reasonable minds differ about his ability to retain and develop players, but he has shown to be a good recruiter.

Xavier retained Travis Steele with the expectation that he would one day be the head coach, not that he would immediately replace an elite one with no dip in form as he found his footing. Transitions are hard, but the reward for a little patience is worth the wait.