So 14 years after he left the ACC, Chris Mack has returned.
Welcome back Chris. Knowing that I won’t be on assignment when your Louisville team first travels to Joel Coliseum to play Wake makes me almost regret that I retired from the Winston-Salem Journal seven months ago.
No one was surprised to hear back in 2004 that Mack was leaving Wake to join Sean Miller’s staff at Xavier. We all knew Chris’ heart belonged at X, where he spent his last two college seasons after transferring from Evansville.
Besides, at Wake, both Jeff Battle and Dino Gaudio were entrenched as veteran assistants and we all could see that that a spot on Miller’s bench in Miller’s first season at Xavier would give Chris more upward mobility toward the obvious goal of some day running his own program.
And speaking of his heart, Chris’ fiance, Christi Hester, happened to be the director of basketball operations for the Xavier women’s team. They were married upon his return to Cincinnati and began a family that now includes daughters Lainee (12) and Hailee (11) and son Brayden (3).
Future college recruiters should keep a close eye on the Mack family. Chris was a reserve at Xavier under Pete Gillen, but the exploits of Christi are still remembered at the University of Dayton today, where, known affectionately by her nickname “Socks’’ she poured in 1,268 points for the Flyers.
In 2014, Christi Hester Mack was inducted in university’s Hall of Fame. The fact that she grew up in Louisville could well have been an inducement for the Macks to leave Xavier and return to Kentucky.
And no one who knew Chris during his three seasons with Skip Prosser’s staff could be surprised at his meteoric rise in the profession. He had an intensity about him, a real edge, and he could push people harder than they, at times, wanted to be pushed. What I remember best though was his bright mind.
When Prosser decided Wake needed a fresh new marketing campaign to promote the program, he put Mack’s bright mind to work. The idea Mack came up with was the tie-dye attire with the Deacon mascot rolling out in pregame on his chopper.
It all may be weak sauce today, but at the time the pulsating energy at Joel Coliseum when the Deacons took the court was something to experience.
It was Mack’s body of work at Xavier, where he compiled a 215-97 record and made the NCAA Tournament eight of nine years, that convinced Louisville this week that he was the right man for their head job.
My bet is that they will have plenty of reasons to celebrate their decision. I can promise you whatever team Mack puts on the floor will be as intense, hard-nosed and combative as its coach.
As for who will succeed Mack at Xavier, I was surprised to see that Paul Daugherty, the columnist for the Cincinnati Enquirer, didn’t include Pat Kelsey in his list of potential candidates. Kelsey, another former Xavier assistant who I got to know during his eight years spent at Wake as director of basketball operations and assistant coach, has made Winthrop into a Big South power since taking over the program in 2012-13.
Daugherty may be thinking that the distance from the Big South to the Big East is a bridge too far. I’d love to see Pat get a chance to prove him wrong.
The other coaching news that caught my eye this week was that Ryan Odom, one of the brightest new stars in the college constellation, has signed a new contract at UMBC. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, which makes he wonder if he will be available when Wake finally decides its going to take another coach besides Danny Manning to return the program to ACC relevance and beyond.
We can dream, can’t we?