By Howie Lindsey
After a year filled with terrible news,
national embarrassment and scandal, you can’t
blame Louisville fans if they’ve been a little giddy
these last few weeks.
Not only did the Board of Trustees hire fan favorite
Vince Tyra as Louisville’s athletic director,
but Tyra then turned around and hired the next
Hall of Fame coach to run Louisville basketball,
We’ll get back to Tyra in a second, but the big
news is Mack.
Amidst scandal and turmoil, Louisville landed
one of the top young coaches in basketball.
Mack was the 2017-18 Big East Coach of the
Year. He led Xavier to three conference titles, and
his team landed a Top 5 national ranking and a
No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament this season.
He already has 11 NCAA Tournament wins,
and he’s only 48 years old. He has four Sweet 16s
and one Elite Eight to his credit. And yes, the Final
Four has eluded him thus far, but he has built a
consistent winner at Xavier, and Louisville fans
can’t wait to see what he can do with Louisville’s
Mack is so well-respected in the coaching ranks
that he has been a candidate for several other Top
10 programs before. In fact, Mack was reportedly
pursued by Indiana, Georgetown and Ohio State
just within the last two years.
Which brings us to why Louisville fans are giddy.
Hiring Chris Mack answers a massive question
for Louisville fans: Are we still elite?
Given all the scandal and the likely future
punishment from the Brian Bowen recruitment,
there are some nationally who tried to paint the
Louisville job as a scrap heap. And there were some
loud voices locally who tried to portray the job as a
complete rebuild that would necessitate a former
player or first-time head coach to take the job.
Meanwhile others, like me, continued to point
out the incredible advantages Louisville has as a
program. Not only is it one of the Top 10 programs
of all time, the Cardinals are one of the mostprofitable
programs in the nation. UofL plays
in the most incredible college-only arena in the
world, and the facilities and fan support here
at Louisville are among the Top 5 in the nation.
Hiring Mack proves that Louisville is still elite.
Louisville is on another level than the jobs at Ohio
State or Indiana (jobs Mack turned down). And
THAT should make Louisville fans happy.
Hiring Mack is also an indication of the power
of Louisville’s status as elite.
Mack wasn’t just Xavier’s coach. Mack was a
Xavier lifer. He played there until 2000. He came
back to be an assistant coach at Xavier in 2004.
And he’s been Xavier’s head coach since 2009.
But the Louisville job just had too much allure.
Hear him tell it.
In a thank you note to Xavier just before he was
announced as Louisville’s coach, Mack wrote:
“For over 18 years I called Victory Parkway home.
From the day I walked on campus as a studentathlete
in 1990 – to returning as an assistant coach
in 2004 – to that life-changing moment when
I was named your head coach in 2009. … THIS
PLACE has always had my heart. That feeling
has made it so easy for me and my family to let
opportunities outside of Xavier come and go. No
other opportunity has ever felt ‘right,’ until now.
Ultimately, I felt like this situation offered a new
and unique challenge that I could not turn down.”
Louisville was too good to turn down.
After nearly three years of scandal, most
Louisville fans I know have this battered and
weary expression when talking about their men’s
basketball program. “Scandal fatigue” was one
of the many reasons listed why attendance was
down the last two seasons.
It was a messy divorce with Rick Pitino. And
the last six months have been spent hearing jokes
and snide remarks from friends in Kentucky or
Indiana gear. Louisville fans desperately needed
to hear someone outside the program tell them
they’re still attractive.
Mack did that in spades. One of the hottest
coaches in America just broke away from his
lifetime program to come coach at Louisville, likely
at one of the lowest points in program history.
And beyond that, when we heard for months
that no recruit would want to come to Louisville,
Mack turned that on its head. Even before he
officially landed the job he offered some of the
top talent in the country and made contacts with
several elite recruits still left in the 2018 class.
Speaking of good recruiting, let’s get back to
Tyra. Not only was Tyra extremely impressive
during his six-month stint as interim athletic
director, but he landed Chris Mack on the second
day of his term as the official AD.
Does Tyra still have more to learn about
collegiate athletics and running a department?
Sure. He’d tell you that as well. But his business
background and seemingly no-nonsense
communication style has made for good, positive
conversations around the athletic department.
The day he got the job as Louisville’s AD, Tyra
thanked previous Athletic Director Tom Jurich for
collecting such an incredible group of coaches
in all of Louisville’s sports. Tyra noted that day
he was ready to add another thoroughbred to
Louisville’s stable of coaches, and he did just that
when he hired Mack.
So even though Mack hasn’t won a game yet for
Louisville, it’s easy to see why Louisville fans are
giddy about the future of their program.
Hiring Chris Mack answers a massive
question for Louisville fans:
Are we still elite?