Chris Mack is bound for Louisville. The now former head coach for the Xavier Musketeers will be filling the vacancy left by Rick Pitino and will be the next head coach for the Louisville Cardinals. Mack’s impact at Xavier is indescribable, and he took them to heights they’ve never achieved before.
That being said, the show must go on in Cincy. Whoever is next in line for the job at Xavier will take the reins of a program that has done nothing but succeed. They may be in a bit of transition this season with Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura departing, along with Sean O’Mara and grad transfer Kerem Kanter, as well. Nonetheless, there’s a solid base there, and the laundry list of coaches who have succeeded there is a notable one.
Let’s etch together a list of probable candidates for the job.
This one might make the most sense, and also might be the most likely choice. Steele is currently an associate head coach, and wasn’t named as one of the assistants who will be joining Mack at Louisville. There could be reasons behind that, as he could be in line for an interview with the Musketeers. But this would obviously be the easiest route for Xavier. In that they would just be able to promote from within. It wouldn’t be the first time that the Musketeers program has elevated someone, and won’t be the last either.
Pat Kelsey is another name who might make a lot of sense. Kelsey’s alma mater is Xavier, where he spent time playing from 1995-1998. He was also an assistant for Mack for four seasons before he took the head coaching job with the Winthrop Eagles. At Winthrop, he’s amassed a 121-71 record. That includes two Big South regular season titles and the 2017 Big South Tournament Championship. The Eagles earned a bid in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, where they lost to the Big East’s Butler Bulldogs. They went 19-12 last season, but were 12-6 and tied for second in the Big South. He’s never finished worse than fifth in his six years at Winthrop, and has five Top 3 finishes. Kelsey has accomplished a lot in a short time, and would be a very good candidate for the job.
The 2017 Horizon League Coach of the Year could also be a candidate for the Xavier job. As the head coach of the Northern Kentucky Norse, Brannen has led NKU to rousing success. After finishing 9-21 and eighth in the Horizon League standings in his first year, they rebounded with a record of 24-11 and a tie for 3rd in the league. They won the Horizon League Tournament Championship and made it into the NCAA Tournament for the first time as a D1 program. They then followed that up with a 22-10 mark and a 15-3 record in Horizon League play. That was good enough for them to win their first Horizon League regular season championship. Brannen may only have three years of experience as a head coach. However, he has proven he can work from the ground up, which could be a situation that Xavier may find themselves in with the looming exoduses coming up.
Okay, so this one might be pushing it a little bit. Thad Matta, of course, was a former Xavier head coach. Matta helped lead Xavier to two A-10 regular season championships back in 2001 and 2002. He also led them to an Elite Eight appearance in 2004, where they fell just a few points shy of the Duke Blue Devils and a trip to the Final Four. That was the last we saw of Matta in Cincinnati, as he shipped up to Columbus, where he was hea dcoach of the Ohio State Buckeyes for 13 seasons. Matta didn’t coach this past year, but seemed interested in the Georgia Bulldogs job. Now that Xavier has an opening, would itintrigue him to go to Cincy? Maybe, maybe not.