Jury Returns: Chris Mack is Not a Good Coach

For a while I’ve gone back and forth on whether I think Chris Mack is a good coach. After yesterday’s drubbing at the hands of Marquette I have now realized that he is not. The argument for Mack is clear, after the departure of Sean Miller the program has not missed a beat. The team has not dropped off, thus it is unfair to consider him a poor coach. Xavier has 50 wins since Mack grabbed the wheel. The question is; how much of that success can be attributed to the coach?

Over the past two seasons it is clear that Xavier and Temple have been the teams to beat in the Atlantic 10. How did these teams get to the top? In regard to Temple it seems clear that much of their success has to do with Fran Dunphy taking over the head coaching position following John Chaney’s retirement. It seemed clear that Chaney, legendary architect of the Owls’ lockdown matchup zone defense, had lost his fastball due to his advanced age. After a run of making 17 of 18 NCAA Tournaments, Chaney failed to make the big dance in his final five seasons. Enter Fran Dunphy. Dunphy had paid his dues coaching Penn for 17 years, winning the Ivy League 10 times in that span.

Comparing Chris Mack and Fran Dunphy Over The Past Two Seasons

Mack Dunphy
Record 50-16 55-13
Winning Percentage .758 .809
NCAA Appearances 2 2
2010 Pomeroy Rating 14th 22nd
2011 Pomeroy Rating 35th 36th
2010 RPI 17th 11th
2011 RPI 25th 27th
Expected 09-10 A10 Finish 2nd T-5th
Actual 09-10 A10 Finish T-1st T-1st
Expected 10-11 A10 Finish 2nd 1st
Actual 10-11 A10 Finish 1st 2nd

After an initial rebuilding season Dunphy has led the Owls to the dance four consecutive seasons. Dunphy had taken a sputtering program and breathed new life into it making it the class of the conference. Is the key to his success convincing top flight recruits to spend a few years in North Philadelphia? Not really. While Dunphy has not recruited big names, he has utilized the Philadelphia and New York talent bases well. Below is a table that points to all of Dunphy’s freshman recruits. Notice that only one of them was nationally ranked at their position and he was enrolled this season and has not seen the floor due to injury. Pointing to recruiting as the primary reason for Dunphy’s success seems unwarranted.

Freshman Recruits Along With Their Scout.com Position Ranking



Class Player Pos Rank
Class Player Pos Rank
2006 Adrion Graves SG 20 2006 Ryan Brooks SG NR
2006 Jason Love C 34 2006 Luis Guzman PG NR
2007 Dante Jackson SG 26 2006 Mike Scott PF NR
2008 Tu Holloway PG 15 2007 Ramone Moore SG NR
2008 Brian Walsh SG NR 2007 Lavoy Allen PF NR
2008 Kenny Frease C 11 2007 Michael Eric C NR
2008 Brad Radford SG 27 2007 Martavis Kee SG NR
2008 Mark Lyons PG 20 2008 Scootie Randall SF NR
2010 Griffin McKenzie PF 43 2009 Rahlir Jefferson PF NR
2010 Justin Martin SF 20 2009 Khaliff Wyatt SG NR
2010 Jay Canty SG 20 2010 Aaron Brown SF NR
2010 Jordan Latham PF 20 2010 Anthony Lee C 23

Lets compare Dunphy’s success to that of Mack. Mack has a nearly identical record. Has he been blessed with better talent than Dunphy? You betcha. Over the past five recruiting periods Xavier has received commitments from 12 incoming freshman, the same amount as Temple. There is a major difference however. 11 of X’s 12 recruits were nationally ranked at their respective positions (see table below). So that is 11-12 ranked prospects for Xavier compared to 1-12 ranked prospects. Considering this condition it is clear that the Musketeers are starting from a better position. With that talent level coming through the pipeline in a league like the A-10, Xavier should never finish outside the top three. Under Mack they have won the league in both of the coach’s seasons, so he is certainly making good use of the talent, but it would seem that recruiting has been the primary reason for success.

Taking into account the level of talent coming through the blue side of Cincinnati, one would expect them to have post season success. Last year’s squad did, making the Sweet Sixteen and then forced Kansas State to overtime once there. The run was largely on the back of do-everything-guard Jordan Crawford who was a first round NBA Draft pick. Crawford transferred from Indiana after the Kelvin Sampson debacle. Temple is not likely to get transfers like that, but I digress. A team with that talent should make Sweet Sixteens, and that is exactly what happened.

No such luck this season, after X took a drubbing by Marquette. Marquette ran an offense and Xavier had five guys try to go one-on-one. The Muskies looked flat at the beginning of the contest and never could get into a rhythm. Buzz Williams’ team shut down Xavier’s three top players Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons and Jamel McLean. Lyons and Holloway payed their typical Kobe Bryant inspired hero-complex games and failed to succeed against a stout Golden Eagle defense. McLean simply had a bad game. There was little ball movement and players largely stood around waiting to get the ball.

Such is not the sign of a good coach. Looking back at the games I have seen Xavier play this season, last night was not an exception but the norm. The only difference between this game and the others is that X’s superior talent did not save the day. Also, Xavier has consistently played to the level of its competition which is a sign of lack of motivation. Mental lapses against bad teams, while not costing many games, still has been apparent and will have to change in order for my opinion of Mack to change. While Mack is by no means Brian Gregory, he is not Fran Dunphy either. Muskie fans should not expect a Final Four any time soon.


2 Responses to Jury Returns: Chris Mack is Not a Good Coach

  1. rogabee says:

    A bit unfair to Mack considering what he had to work with. Mack is a very good coach IMO in a ton of areas. Look to last year, when Jordan Crawford didn’t want to pass the ball or play much D the first half of the year. Mack changed that up, and got him to play a team game. This year, with the injuries, he slowed down the adjusted game tempo from 45th to 212th in the country, a move a lot of coaches wouldn’t make (the we’ll play my way coaches).

    Mack’s best incoming player should have been Jordan Martin, who was ruled ineligible before the start of the season (much like our Martin was for us). The Muskies also took a huge hit when Brad Redford tore his ACL in late October. Then, to start the year, Jamel McLean fractured an orbital bone, and missed the WMU game and wasn’t 100% for the next against IPFW (the close games against lesser competition I presume you’re referring to). Xavier with very little depth (Andrew Taylor was their 7th guy…their best guy under 6-5 off the bench was Kevin Freeney…) proceeded to go 24-7, 15-1 in the A10.

    Also the comparison to Dunphy isn’t quite as fair to Mack. Mack had zero head coaching experience before starting at Xavier; Dunphy was at Penn since 1989. It often takes a coach a year or two to settle in. Yes, there was not much team ball in the tourney L. Evaluating the rest though…Mack has been a decent adjustment coach (look at him going big against us the last 6 minutes and wearing the Dukes down), mediocre ball-movement coach, excellent defensive coach, especially in coaching defensive transition, above-average preparation coach (going 15-1 in any league taking every team’s best shot is impressive), excellent defensive rebounding coach (though for some reason the O boards are harder to come by for X than I would have thought) under Mack.

    As for the recruiting: a lot of it is a matter of just flat out missing talent evaluations with Temple (Allen was 14th at his position on Rivals though unranked on scout. Ramone Moore wasn’t evaluated properly at Temple because he was not going to play basketball in the fall per ESPN’s admission.). I agree Dunphy has done the most with the the talent he has in our conference (with Majerus an extremely close 2nd right now IMO).

    • kjg520 says:

      All fair points. I still think my analysis is fair, because I am not arguing that he is a bad coach. I am simply arguing he is an average coach, like I think Ron Everhart is an average coach. If they have the players they will win. If not, then they will likely have trouble. I still think it is not true to say X does not have players. Thanks for responding.

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