Next Man Up: Xavier hires Travis Steele, March Madness & More
Who will replace Xavier head coach Chris Mack?
I remember when I was a freshman at Xavier University. We were in the Atlantic 10. Our toughest conference opponents included Temple, Rhode Island, and Dayton. We were considered to be members of a “cupcake league” by the Power 6 conferences. Even though this was the same league that heralded two Elite 8 teams in 2004 (Xavier and St. Joseph’s). This was the same league that had Xavier who had another Elite 8 run of their own my senior year in high school in 2008. I remember Sean Miller (current coach of Arizona) saying to the media that the Atlantic 10 was not a mid-major league.
Truthfully, back then it wasn’t. This league usually sent about 5–7 teams to the NCAA Tournament when Temple and Xavier were members. Since their departure to the American Athletic Conference and the BIG EAST, the Atlantic 10 has not had the same steam as of late.
I’ve come to realize something, however. The 2018 NCAA Tournament has made a spoiled fan. Xavier made their first trip to the NCAA as a 1 seed this year. I was walking around like we were Kansas or Villanova. But March Madness isn’t about seeding. March Madness is about winning in the moment. Look at Loyola Chicago. I can honestly say I knew nothing about their program success until filling out the bracket. I knew they’d won the Horizon League championship, but that meant nothing to me since Butler’s departure from the league.
Xavier has been to the NCAA Tournament 17 times since the 1999–2000 season and to the NCAA Tournament 27 times since 1980. We’ve come a long way from our days in the Cincinnati Gardens, a long way from leaving the MCC (1995). We’ve been in 3 conferences in the last 23 years. But what I did not consider is we just got our seat at the table.
I was expecting Xavier to win it all. Quite frankly, we could have at least made the Final 4 last year had we not laid a fat egg against Gonzaga. So having the expectations of Elite 8 or better after winning the regular season BIG EAST championship was not unrealistic as a fan. However, this is the same tournament that had UMBC over Virginia, Loyola to the Final 4, Kansas State in the Sweet 16 as a no.9, and Syracuse as an 11. UMBC’s still has the biggest victory this year, however. They recently inked an $85 million dollar corporate sponsorship they received for their win over Virginia. This tournament has been a beauty to watch for the fan of the underdog.
Shortly after Xavier was eliminated by Florida State the punches kept on rolling. Chris Mack, our winningest coach in program history bolted for the head coaching job at Louisville. Many were stunned because they saw Mack as “our guy”. But we as a Xavier fan base need to get over the fact that someone should stay. Even if we win a national championship, a coach will probably never stay here until they retire. We as a fan base should be okay with that because it means we will be doing things right as a program.
Now we have Travis Steele, a first-time head coach. Some have expressed their worry about giving the baton to a first-time head coach at an elite program. But Mack, our winningest coach was unproven 9 years ago. Given that Steele has been with the program for the last 9 years, he is the right guy for the job. While the hire may be safe, it's smart. It’s a formula that’s worked for Xavier thus far.
Chris Mack replaced by Travis Steele: This formula has worked, and “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”
What is the next step? A Final Four appearance or better for starters. I’m not here to trash my team, I’m here to humble it. We have so much more to do in this program and it’s going to require every part of Xavier Nation (including fan support) to “keep the machine going. “ Now it’s Travis Steele’s turn. I wrote about him being the head coach for Butler back in July for MG. They hired LaVall Jordan who has been solid thus far. I’m hoping we end up lucky, given I praised him this summer for the Butler job.
Our time will come, but the reality is it probably won’t happen as a 1 seed. Xavier basketball is at its best when we are underdogs. It hurts me to say, but a Xavier no.1 seed almost doesn’t feel right. We had a target on our back as soon as we saw Texas Southern. Every team on our side of the bracket was looking at Virginia and us.
We are the scrappy underdogs who are ready to “zip em up.” When our time does arise, I can honestly say that we probably will not be a 1 seed.
And quite frankly, none of that will even matter once we hoist that trophy.
Originally published in The Millennial Gazette on March 31, 2018.