Sources: Louisville finalizing deal with Chris Mack

Yahoo Sports
Xavier head coach Chris Mack screams to his team, during the second half of a second-round game against Florida State, in the NCAA college basketball tournament in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, March 18, 2018. (AP)
Xavier head coach Chris Mack screams to his team, during the second half of a second-round game against Florida State, in the NCAA college basketball tournament in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, March 18, 2018. (AP)

Louisville is finalizing a deal Tuesday with Xavier’s Chris Mack that will make him the next men’s basketball coach of the Cardinals, multiple sources told Yahoo Sports.

Mack could be introduced as early as Wednesday. A special meeting of the Louisville board of trustees and athletic association has been scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

Tuesday afternoon, Mack thanked Xavier, saying this week was the toughest of his life.

“THIS PLACE has always had my heart,” he wrote. “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. I felt like this situation offered a new and unique challenge that I could not turn down.”

Despite a near-constant immersion in scandal since October 2015, Louisville was able to land one of the most accomplished coaches in the country in Mack. He led Xavier to the first Big East title and No. 1 NCAA tournament seed in school history this season, and took the Musketeers to the Big Dance eight times in nine seasons as the head coach at Xavier.

But prying the 48-year-old Mack away from his alma mater did not come cheaply for Louisville. Athletic director Vince Tyra, who was just elevated from interim AD to full time on Monday in order to expedite this hiring, has firmed up a seven-year deal worth $4 million a year, sources said. That is believed to make Mack one of just seven coaches nationally making $4 million or more per year.

Although Mack was long considered the front-runner for the job, Louisville inquired about Texas coach Shaka Smart, sources told Yahoo Sports, but Smart was not interested. The school also reportedly sought permission to speak with Kentucky assistant and former Louisville star player Kenny Payne about the job.

Mack comes to Louisville at a time when the blueblood program is in crisis.

Last month, the Cardinals officially were forced to vacate their 2013 national title due to NCAA sanctions resulting from former staffer Andre McGee paying for strippers and escorts to entertain players and recruits on campus. That scandal went public in October 2015 when a Louisville escort published a tell-all book, and the NCAA investigative process and subsequent rulings overshadowed nearly three full seasons for the Cardinals.

Last fall, Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino and entrenched athletic director Tom Jurich were fired when Louisville was implicated in a separate scandal, the federal investigation of corruption in college basketball. Ten men were arrested as a result of that federal probe, though none were employed by Louisville. Nevertheless, with staff members implicated via FBI surveillance, the school moved quickly to clean house. David Padgett, a 32-year-old assistant coach, was elevated to interim coach status in late September and led the Cardinals to a 22-14 record and an NIT berth.

The potential NCAA ramifications from the federal probe created a cloud over the program that led many to believe the school would have a difficult time attracting an accomplished head coach. But Mack, whose wife is a Louisville native, has long been considered a potential replacement whenever the end of the Pitino Era came.

With Mack now in place, his first task will be solidifying a roster that could be in flux. Juniors Ray Spalding and Deng Adel could test the NBA draft waters, and several underclassmen could be mulling transfers, sources said.

Meanwhile, speculation about the next coach at Xavier will turn to a name from the school’s past: Thad Matta. The former coach of the Musketeers from 2001-04 went on to lead Ohio State to two Final Fours, but was forced out by the school last June. Matta interviewed for two Southeastern Conference jobs, at Mississippi and Georgia, but took neither.

Mack compiled a 215-97 record at Xavier, a .689 winning percentage. He had a 105-49 conference record in four seasons in the Atlantic-10 and five in the Big East. He has never had a losing record, overall or in league play.

Mack’s eight NCAA tournament berths are the most for an Xavier coach. He’s 10-7 in NCAA games, with one regional final appearance and four appearances in the Sweet 16. However, his two highest seeded teams both failed to make in out of the first weekend of the tournament — the 2016 team earned a No. 2 seed but lost in the round of 32 to Wisconsin, and this year’s No. 1 seed was upset by Florida State.

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