CINCINNATI -- College basketball's worst kept secret is now public.
Chris Mack is heading to the University of Louisville to take over that school's basketball program. And all anyone should say to him is: "Thanks."
Xavier University tried to keep him, but there was no way it could compete with the pay, program budget and history that Louisville offers. A lot of that history, lately, has been bad. But most of it is storied. How could he turn it down?
Mack will be 49 in December. After awhile, in any profession, the phone stops ringing when you get to a certain age. Basketball coaches are no different, particularly ones who stay in one place for too long a time.
When you say 'no' too many times, you fall off the contact list. When you stay at one place too long, and you've said 'no' too many times, your current employer may not be so quick to give you the things you think you need to win. That's no knock on Xavier. It's just how it is.
Mack is getting a long-term deal. Seven years is a long time for any contract in any profession these days. He'll need it.
Mack will have to put together two teams at Louisville. One will be a team that gets him through the federal investigation that's being conducted into alleged illegal money laundering between an agent, a shoe company and players. The feds won't be done with their case until late this year, probably early 2019. Then the NCAA won't be far behind with sanctions.
Mack will need to convince players he inherits, as well as players now in high school, that while they can play at Louisville, they most probably will miss some NCAA Tournaments. He'll need some players who'll commit to a full four years to the program. Once he's past whatever probation the NCAA may impose, then maybe the McDonald's All Americans will sign on. He may get some of those sooner than that, so long as the "one and done" rule doesn't change.
I'm not a Xavier fan. I'm not a UC fan. To be honest, I'm not a fan of any team, anywhere. You can't be that in the profession I'm in, or you will have no credibility. I root for the story and have never wavered from that. But I've always thought is was OK to root for the good guys. Mack is a good guy.
Mack will succeed, because he excels at recruiting. I've long said he's one of the best bench coaches I've every seen. The fan base at Louisville may get antsy if wins don't occur right away. If they don't, the FBI and NCAA are easy fall backs.
On a personal level, I will miss him. I covered Mack when he played at Saint Xavier, during his time playing for Xavier and as their head coach. He is a stand up guy. When my wife died six years ago, he wrote a beautiful note to me. I still have it.
As for Xavier, they know the drill. This has happened before, many times. Bob Staak begat Pete Gillen, who begat Skip Prosser, who begat Sean Miller, who begat Chris Mack. On that coaching tree, Mack raised the bar higher than any of them. Finding a basketball coach has never been a program at Xavier. It won't be now.
If they look internally, Travis Steele would be a good place to start. He's been an assistant to Mack the last nine seasons, three as his top lieutenant.
He knows the program, knows the players. He knows the Xavier way. He's a safe, in-house choice. If Xavier chooses to look outside, Pat Kelsey is another safe choice.
One of Mack's former assistant coaches, Kelsey has built a strong, and at times terrific, program at Winthrop. He took a job at Massachusetts last year, then backed out of it. If that doesn't scare off Xavier, nothing else about him will.
Loyola University Chicago's Porter Moser is a hot name this year. Maybe he gets a call, or a look. Maybe there's some hot assistant coach at some program somewhere that's caught the eye of Xavier's current Athletics Director, Greg Christopher.
He's been at the AD game for the last 13 years. He knows the game. Like any good athletic director, Christopher probably has kept a short list of Mack replacements in his desk drawer for awhile.
Xavier will be just fine.
"Things turn out best for the people who make the best out of the way things turn out."
John Wooden said that over 40 years ago -- and in the world of sports, those words apply almost ever day.
Life is nothing but change. In other ways, to paraphrase Wooden, it's how you adapt to change that will determine whether or not you'll be successful.
Saying goodbye is never easy. But there's one thing we should say: Good luck, Chris.