In the last 35 years of Xavier basketball, the team has been led by great coaches, and these coaches are the reason Xavier has become such a consistent team in college basketball, jumping from the MCC (Midwestern Collegiate Conference - present day Horizon League), to the Atlantic 10, and now entering their second year in the Big East.
Bob Staak is credited as turning the program around (1979-1985), leading the school to its second NCAA Tournament appearance in 1983 and first since 1961. Pete Gillen (1985-1994) led X to 12 tournament appearances (5-7 record) including their first ever win in 1986 and first sweet sixteen in 1990. Skip Prosser (1994-2001) coached the team to 5 tournament appearances with players like future NBA champion James Posey, but only one win in those 5 appearances.
Thad Matta (2001-2004) had the most post-season success of a Xavier coach, but he also had the most talent. He had players like Lionel Chalmers, Romain Sato, and David West; a very talented group that helped Xavier get to the NCAA Tournament all three years with Matta under the helm, and led the school to its first ever Elite 8 appearance. Sean Miller (2004-2009) helped bring Xavier to the NCAA Tournament in four out of his five seasons as coach and got the team to back-to-back Sweet 16’s (2008 & 2009). This included a second Elite 8 appearance in 2008, falling to a UCLA team that had future NBA players in Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, and Darren Collison.
Those are some heavy shoes to fill for Chris Mack. What’s interesting is all Xavier’s prior coaches used Xavier as a stepping stone for greener pastures. Staak went on to Wake Forest and became an assistant coach in the NBA. Gillen moved on to coach future Big East colleague Providence and ACC school Virginia. Prosser, like Staak, left to coach Wake Forest and would lead the Demon Deacons to a Sweet Sixteen in 2004 led by a point guard by the name of Chris Paul. Sadly, Prosser passed away as coach of Wake Forest in 2007 from a heart attack at the age of 56. Matta would move on to the Ohio State Buckeyes after a short stay, and Miller to Arizona only five seasons into his tenure.
Chris Mack is a Cincinnati native, played basketball for Xavier under Pete Gillen from 1990-93, and was an assistant for the team from 1999-2001, an assistant under Prosser at Wake Forest from 2001-2004, and back again as an assistant at X under Miller from 2004-2009. If there is one man who is a perfect fit as head coach for Xavier, it is Chris Mack. He has been successful at the helm, leading the Muskies to four tournament appearances in five years, including Sweet 16 appearances in 2010 and 2012 and their highest ranking in the AP poll (No. 7 in 2011-12).
That being said, Mack’s first two years were largely Miller’s recruits (Tu Holloway) and transfers (Jordan Crawford).
Xavier’s last year in the A-10 (2012-2013) and Chris Mack’s fourth year as coach was a disaster. Before the season, Mark Lyons transferred for his fifth year of eligibility to play under Sean Miller at Arizona, and sophomore Dez Wells was kicked out of the school for a questionable sexual assault charge. If Wells and Lyons had suited up for the Musketeers that season, no doubt they would have made the tournament or even won a game. The season was a bleak one; no tournament appearance for the first time in eight seasons and Xavier’s worst record since 1995-96.
This past season X did finish third in its first season as a member of the Big East, but the team only made the First Four of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, and was embarrassed by NC State to the tune of 74-59.
Big questions now loom for Chris Mack and the future of this basketball program. Mack has been linked to numerous job openings recently, including California, Wake Forest, and Tennessee during this off-season. Supposedly Xavier gave him a pay raise and contract extension so he would stay.
Although rumors like that are not fun as a Xavier fan, doesn’t Mack need to prove more as a coach? Yes, Mack has led the school to two Sweet 16s, but he has also done things like mishandling the brawl three years ago, and has shown an inability to keep his recruits for all four years (only four have ever stayed that long).
There's no question Mack can recruit and the recruiting (four 4-star recruits) class he is bringing in may salvage some of the rough patches he and muskie fans alike, have gone through the past 2-3 seasons. If you noticed Xavier’s success as a program has risen higher from each coach. Making the tournament, winning a game in the tournament, getting to the Sweet 16, and getting to the Elite 8. It only makes sense that the next step this program takes is a final four, and maybe even a championship.
Mack has had great success with Xavier and is going into his sixth season as coach, the longest tenure of a Xavier coach since Prosser. Mack has a chance to supplant Xavier as not a stepping stone, but as a cornerstone of college basketball. With all his ties to Cincinnati, he can become the all-time winningest and most successful coach in Xavier basketball history. I believe in Chris Mack and feel he can safely get into the company of his coaching predecessors by doing one thing. That one thing is moving to the next step, and evolving this program to its first ever final four and beyond.