CINCINNATI -- Xavier men’s basketball coach Chris Mack is kicking back on his summer vacation while social media is all atwitter about the possibility of him filling the Ohio State vacancy left by Thad Matta’s firing.
Not five minutes after Matta’s departure was announced in Columbus, Mack’s name cropped up in the usual speculation. That’s nothing new for Mack, who led last year’s Musketeers to the Elite Eight run and has amassed four Sweet 16 appearances in eight years.
Those four Sweet 16s, by the way, are two more than any other Xavier coach in program history.
Would a payday at OSU be bigger? Yes. Is money everything? No. Here are nine reasons why Mack should resist the Buckeyes job and stay exactly where he is, should Ohio State come calling.
1. He’s a proven winner at Xavier.
Quite simply, Mack is a players’ coach. Recruits have said time and again that he’s the major reason they ink their National Letters of Intent, and he maintains their respect through his ability to win.
Just look at last season. With projected NBA draft pick Edmond Sumner sidelined with an ACL tear, Mack still led the Musketeers to the Elite Eight.
He has 10 NCAA tournament wins as Xavier’s coach and ranks No. 2 on the Musketeers’ all-time wins list (186-91). The Musketeers have won in the Atlantic 10 and the Big East under Mack, 47, and his ability to restock the cupboard through recruiting has maintained Xavier’s place in the national conversation.
2. Mack and his staff recruit elite talent.
Membership in the Big East has allowed Mack and his assistants to get into the living rooms of recruits they would have been denied in prior conferences. Mack has continued to build on that momentum so that, in 2017-18, the highest ranked recruiting class in program history is headed to Xavier. Top-30 prospect Paul Scruggs picked the Musketeers over blue chip programs like Indiana, Michigan State and Connecticut.
From highly sought-after grad transfer Kerem Kanter to the other members of the newest class (Naji Marshall, Jared Ridder, Elias Harden and Kentrevious Jones), Xavier is poised to become an even greater force.
3. Xavier is, and always will be, a basketball school.
Hoops became the top dog when the Musketeers’ football program was dissolved in 1973, and the shared vision of university presidents and athletic directors since then has strengthened that tenet.
Xavier basketball is a high major program. The way it travels and recruits, from chartered flights to a private plane Mack uses to visit potential players, reflects that. There are fewer than 4,500 undergraduates at the university and yet 10,250-plus fans jam home games on a regular basis.
Everything at Xavier is geared toward basketball, which is something football-dominated OSU cannot say.
4. There’s no place like home.
It’s not just that Mack grew up in Cincinnati, or that he was a 1992 Xavier graduate, or that he was a two-time captain under former coach Pete Gillen. Mack also got his break at Xavier as a director of basketball operations under Skip Prosser. After leaving XU for Wake Forest with Prosser, Mack returned to his alma mater to become a five-year assistant under Sean Miller. Xavier is in Mack’s blood.
His parents are here, his wife, Christi, starred in hoops at Dayton and hails from Louisville, and his kids -- Lainee, Hailee and Brayden -- are entrenched in the schools and the community.
5. Charitable endeavors.
The Macks started the Mack Family Foundation in August of 2016 to help less fortunate kids in Greater Cincinnati.
All the paychecks Mack receives for speaking engagements are rolled into the charity, which eventually plans to award scholarships. Certainly the Macks could increase the footprint of their foundation with a job change, but it wouldn’t be the same as boosting one’s hometown.
The Macks in February unveiled “Coach Mack’s Corner” at Pleasant Hill Academy, donating 600 books and seating in a library nook for elementary kids. The school is just a few miles from where Mack grew up. In fact, he played youth soccer on the field where the school now stands.
6. Can’t beat the Big East.
Well, not when you’re Ohio State and it comes to conference RPI, anyway.
A sampling of searches -- CBSSPorts.com, RealTimeRPI.com, TeamRankings.com -- rate the Big East over the Big Ten. Last March the 14-team Big Ten garnered seven NCAA tournament bids. Same for the 10-team Big East.
With highly touted Villanova, Butler, Seton Hall and Xavier teams predicted to make noise in the polls heading into next season and a round-robin format that pits each Big East team against its conference members twice, it’s hard to undercut the value in playing in a league that’s pretty solid from top to bottom.
7. Job security.
Xavier has a tradition of giving coaches chances to flourish, and certainly careers -- like that of Arizona’s Sean Miller -- have taken flight.
Mack’s resume and university ties are part of an attractive portfolio that simply aligns with Xavier.
Matta was successful at Xavier too, and he coached national player of the year David West, but he’s out of a job 13 years after departing. Matta has unique circumstances, sure, including health problems, but it goes to show that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence.
Mack has the ability to write his own story at Xavier. He knows the school. He has the administration’s support. Navigating the landscape of another program may not be as seamless.
8. Xavier has more immediate upside.
Matta led OSU to two Final Fours and the program is steeped in history with a national championship (1960) to its name, but the Buckeyes have missed the last two NCAA tournaments.
Athletic Director Gene Smith indicated in Monday’s press conference that poor recruiting led to Matta’s ouster. So again, with Xavier welcoming its top-ranked recruiting class in history, there is for now a marked contrast between the programs.
XU returns a core of players that competed in the Elite Eight; OSU hasn’t been to the Elite Eight since 2013. While the Buckeyes job will have no shortage of candidates, there is plenty of rebuilding to do.
9. The timing is off.
The fact that Smith and Matta revealed their news in early June is puzzling because most coaching carousel moves are done quickly after the season’s end. Like March. Or April.
Now that it’s June, coaches (see: Archie Miller, Indiana) are already acclimating themselves to their new programs. The first summer session at Xavier has begun.
Mack said recently that the second session is when newcomers are introduced to Xavier’s system. Basketball season, for all intents and purposes, is just around the corner. That’s not an ideal scenario for anyone stepping into a new coaching job (or their assistants). It simply makes more sense for Mack to continue plotting his course at Xavier.
Shannon Russell is a freelance sports reporter; this column represents her opinion.