ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Every Xavier fan wants the Musketeers to get to the Final Four next month and compete for the national championship. But none of them want to see Chris Mack leave.
So, should fans be careful what they wish for?
Not when you consider that Mack has won two national Coach of the Year awards this season, and he's going to be high on any school's Most Wanted list whether the second-seeded Musketeers make it to Houston or not.
"Chris has done an amazing job to take this program to a new level," Xavier Athletic Director Greg Christopher told WCPO's Good Morning Tri-State anchor Chris Riva at the East Regional this weekend. "We obviously have an amazing history, but he has taken it to a new level."
Christopher has to be used to the speculation by now, and Riva asked him the big question.
Riva: "Coach Mack just earned his second national coach of the year award this week. Do you worry about losing him to another school?"
Christopher: “You never say never in this industry. Chris does an amazing job. The fact that he is from Cincinnati, he knows how important this is. He knows what we have here. We need to be committed and I think the university has proven its commitment. I know we will continue to do so. The bottom line is we are thrilled to have him as our coach.”
Riva talked to several Xavier fans in St. Louis and they are counting on Mack's allegiance to Xavier (he played and graduated there) and hometown roots (OK, he was born in Cleveland, but he grew up in North College Hill, attended St. Xavier High) to keep him here.
Len: "I am a Bomber myself. I am part of the long blue line. I think Chris understands Xavier and hopefully he is going to stay at Xavier a long time.
Drew: "Obviously with the success a lot of people are going to come knocking at the door. Rightfully so, but hopefully being a Cincinnati guy he will stick around. I think he will."
Tom: "A lot of people use Xavier as a steppingstone. Hopefully he will be here a while and win three or four national titles. Maybe in 20 years they will name the court after him."
Len: "I think Chris understands Xavier and the benefits of Greater Cincinnati."
Mack has had offers before – he turned down Cal and a feeler from Tennessee - but schools are going to be breaking down his door now that he added a No. 2 seed to his resume on top of four Sweet 16s and six NCAA Tournaments in the previous seven years.
Mack will be able to command more dollars than Xavier might be willing to pay. So what if he gets an offer he can't refuse?
Mack made about $1.1 million last year – 39th among the 68 coaches in the NCAA Tournament, according to USA Today. But unlike many coaches, Mack doesn't seem to be a guy who's going to say, "Show me the money."
Read what Mack said to Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News for an article last week:
"We are a private school so no one is divulging my salary. But I can tell you that people are way off. Xavier has done a great thing for me and my family. It’s a private, Catholic school with 4,000 undergrads, and they are not paying me Mike Krzyzewski money, nor would I expect them to. But to feel like I’m getting short-changed, that would be completely wrong.”
There's no question that the Xavier coaching job used to be a steppingstone to a bigger and better one. That was true when Bob Staak left for Wake Forest, Pete Gillen went to Providence, Skip Prosser left for Wake Forest, Thad Matta went to Ohio State and Sean Miller went to Arizona. But with Xavier's recent success in the NCAA Tournament and its new home in the Big East, that's no longer the case.
And if the Musketeers get to Houston, Xavier will answer any doubt that it's ready to compete for the national championship. Says Christopher:
"Where the program is today, we can legitimately say that Xavier can chase a national championship. We are not the cuddly mid-major at this point. It’s a program that is built to chase a national championship, built to compete at the highest level, and that is what we expect.”
So fans will have to wait for the offers to come in at the end of the season. In the meantime, Christopher, for one, is enjoying the ride.
Riva: “Is the NCAA Tournament fun for you? Is it work for you? What is this time like for you?
Christopher (Laughs) “My job is to stay out of the way. We have some great people like Brian Hicks (Associate AD) and Mario Mercurio (Director of Basketball Administration) that are running all of the things under the surface. We have Chris taking care of the team. Bottom line is if I am needed at this point, then something is wrong. The NCAA does a great job running the tournament.”
Riva: “People say Xavier's success has been somewhat of a surprise. Are you surprised by this season?”
Christopher: “Everyone knew coming in this season that Xavier was going to be good, but as the season built and built, layer upon layer, we realized how special this team really could be. The Michigan game back in November was our first glimpse that we thought we could have a really good team here.”
Riva: “Is Cincinnati a basketball mecca now? I know we have had three teams in the tournament before with Miami, but both UC and Xavier are playing on a high level.
Christopher: “Cincinnati is a great basketball market. We talk a lot in our offices about being in a breadbasket, I mean, you look three or four hours in any direction, there is great college basketball. We are right in the center of it.”