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Coaching Search Bracket: Chris Mack vs. Thad Matta

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Chris Mack entered buyout life after a midseason separation from Louisville. As for Thad Matta, back issues forced him to step away at Ohio State, but could Missouri be a place for him to step back into coaching?

Ohio State v Michigan State Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Missouri’s embarked upon its fourth search for a basketball coach in roughly a decade, and as usual, you can find a listicle of candidates anywhere. We also know every fan has their preference. As does each of us on the masthead for this website.

A thought occurred to us: What would happen if you, me, and everyone else ran the process?

How are we doing this? We’re rolling out four regions featuring a pair of matchups. We’ve assembled a profile for each candidate: their background, play style, pros, and cons. At the bottom of each piece is a poll, where you have 24 hours to make your preference known. The fan vote will make up 50 percent of the vote.

Who makes up the other half? The Rock M staff.

If the staff is unanimous and the fans make the same selection, easy enough. If, however, there is a consensus amongst the staff, but the fans disagree, we have a tie. To break the tie, we’ve enlisted the services of Jim Root (@2ndChancePoints), who will render the final verdict.

On Saturday, we looked at the Young Bloods Region, featuring Kim English, Todd Golden, Dennis Gates, and Jeff Linder. The Steady Risers Region saw us pit Niko Medved against Casey Alexander, while Matt McMahon and Grant McCasland squared off.

Today, we’re moving on to the Risk Tolerance Region. Here, you can choose between former Louisville coach Chris Mack and former Ohio State coach Thad Matta. Our other matchup sees Baylor assistant coach Jerome Tang draw former Arizona coach Sean Miller

Tang’s name was among the first batch of coaches tossed out after Cuonzo Martin’s dismissal. Miller’s has appeared on various hot boards. And we’ve added in Matta and Mack. As we detailed already, this region is intended to help us get a sense for how risky you’d want MU to be in making a hire.


Notre Dame v Louisville Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images
  • Name: Chris Mack
  • School: Unemployed
  • Age: 52
  • Seasons: 12
  • Record: 253-72 overall
  • Salary: NA
  • Buyout: NA

Background

Chris Mack began his college career at the University of Evansville where he played for two seasons prior to transferring to Xavier. He spent the final two years of his career as a Musketeer. After graduation, he became a high school girls junior varsity coach at McAuley High School in Cincinnati for two seasons. He was then named the varsity girls coach at Mount Notre Dame High School in Reading, Ohio, where he coached until 1999.

He entered the collegiate coaching ranks as a director of basketball operations for Xavier until 2001 under the late Skip Prosser. When Prosser left for Wake Forest, Mack followed and was elevated to an assistant coach, serving in that capacity until 2004. From 2004 until 2009 he served as an assistant at his alma mater, learning under the wing of Sean Miller.

When Miller left for Arizona after the 2009 season, Mack landed the job in the big chair at Xavier. Taking over a program that was well built under Prosser, Matta, and Miller, Mack continued that trend of success. He achieved eight NCAA tournament bids in nine seasons. Four of those teams reached the second weekend. The Musketeers won two Atlantic 10 Conference titles and one Big East Conference title. Perhaps his best Xavier team was his last in 2018, and they were upset in the second round as a No. 1 seed by Florida State — a Seminoles squad Mizzou fans know well.

Prior to the 2019 season, Mack was anointed as the successor to a legend in the Blue Grass State, Rick Pitino. Following a legend is never easy. Mack made the NCAA tournament in his first season to cap a 20-win campaign. The Cardinals were dispatched by Minnesota in the first round.

His second Louisville squad was his best, finishing second in the ACC and poised for a top 4 NCAA seed before the season was canceled with the pandemic. His third season brought a disjointed 13-7 final record that narrowly missed a bid. A fourth year came with a rocky start, an internal uprising and a quick dismissal.

Play Style

Mack has matched his scheme to the talent as a matter of course. The pace at which his teams play at varies. For instance, in 2016, Xavier was rated 32nd “fastest” per Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted tempo rating, 62nd in 2018 and 223rd in 2017. Simply put, it varies.

Defensively, his teams are strong. His 2022 club is the only team he led that rated lower than 100th in adjusted defensive efficiency. Six of his teams have finished top 50. A strong man-to-man group, his squads typically are very good at preventing free throw attempts and cleaning the defensive glass. If there is a wart, his teams rarely create empty possessions via turnover.

Offensively, his groups are inconsistent in shot-making. Seven of his squads have rated sub-100 in effective-field-goal percentage, while three have been top 50. To make up for shooting deficiencies, his groups traditionally are good on the offensive glass, solid protecting the ball, and frequently earn trips to the free-throw line. One of his bigger struggles at Louisville was putting together teams that simply struggled to put the ball in the basket. Three of his four Cardinal squads rated sub-150 in eFG%.

Pros

Mack has a very impressive resume from his time at Xavier. Louisville doesn’t hire candidates who don’t. If you’re getting the coach who did a marvelous job in Cincinnati, there’s a lot to like. Xavier is consistently one of the lower spenders in the Big East, yet Mack thrived there. Perhaps a school out of the incredibly bright lights of major college basketball in Kentucky is the remedy? If so, Mack makes sense.

Cons

The Louisville era ended badly. Really, really, badly. As mentioned above, it’s hard to follow a legend. Mack having the 2020 postseason ripped out from under a very solid squad really hurt his tenure. But there’s just a lot of questions that need answered.

Mack sat out the first six games of the 2022 campaign. After his return, things started to go south. In a press conference after one of Mack’s last losses as head coach, Malik Williams responded to questions about whether the team had tuned the coaches out with, “I don’t think I have a comment for that.”

That’s simply something you don’t come back from, and Mack didn’t. He was dismissed shortly thereafter. If Mack were to be a legitimate option, there will need to be a deep dive into what went wrong and why. Resumes matter. Things beyond the resume often matter, too.


Villanova v Butler
  • Name: Thad Matta
  • School: Indiana (Associate Athletic Director)
  • Age: 54
  • Seasons: 17
  • Record: 439-154
  • Salary: $425,000*
  • Buyout: Unknown

*Matta’s administrative salary was reported upon his hiring last spring at IU

Background

With Matta’s wealth of experience, it’s hard to believe he’s only 54 years old. Matta played college basketball at Butler University and Southern Illinois. His first job in the coaching ranks was for one year as a graduate assistant at Indiana State University. He then returned to his alma mater in Indianapolis and worked in several capacities over three seasons. He spent one year each as an assistant at Miami (Ohio), Western Carolina and again at Miami. He returned to Butler University and served as Barry Collier’s top assistant from 1997 until 2000.

When Collier was called away to head up Nebraska, Matta was given the reins. Taking over an established Bulldogs program, Matta won the Midwestern Collegiate Conference regular season and postseason crowns. The Butler program advanced to the NCAA tournament as a 10-seed and defeated Wake Forest before losing to national runners up, Arizona.

Matta quickly moved on to Xavier where he served as head coach for three seasons. In those three years he won two A-10 regular season titles and two league tournament titles. Per Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, Xavier finished between 20th and 23rd each of those seasons. In his final season, Butler traveled all the way to the Elite Eight before falling to Duke in a three-point loss.

After that point, it was on to Columbus. Matta would serve 13 years in the first chair for Ohio State. Over those 13 seasons, Ohio State would win five Big 10 regular season titles and four postseason tournament titles. His tenure brought about nine NCAA tournament appearances. Ohio State was ineligible for consideration his first year and missed postseason altogether in his last. The other two misses included two NIT bids and one NIT championship. In 2007 the Buckeyes finished runner-up to the Florida Gators. In 2012 Ohio State fell to an unnamed team in the Final Four.

Play Style

Matta has been out of the coaching game for five seasons now. As such, it’s a little difficult to give a glimpse of his preferred style of play. Significant changes have occurred in the that time, including a shorter shot clock and an extended 3-point arc. Furthermore, his worst two seasons as a head coach came in his last two years. Having to travel back to 2015 really makes it tough to craft a relevant analysis.

However, some notes can still be gleaned.

First and foremost, Matta’s teams excel on the defensive end of the court. Over his 17 seasons, 13 squads have ranked top 30 in adjusted defensive efficiency. The framework for that has been a strong shot defense, especially inside the arc, as well as an incredible ability to keep opponents away from the free throw line. In 17 seasons, his worst ranked team in terms of free throws attempted per field goal attempted was 52nd. Seriously, his teams have ranked first or second nationally in that metric (5) as many times as they’ve been outside the top 30. Highly impressive.

Offensively, his teams’ statistical profile could be described as balanced. His teams generally shoot it well, but are not consistently elite. They were solid in limiting turnovers until his final two seasons. Their work on the offensive glass varied, often preferring to prevent transition buckets in lieu of gathering misses.

Pros

The evidence of his prior successes are readily apparent. While Ohio State never trailed in terms of program expenditures, they were never a spending behemoth as one might expect. Over the latter portion of his career, they generally settled in around fourth in the Big 10. Matta’s exceptional results spanning three programs and nearly two decades would suggest that his magic could work in Columbia. There won’t be many options that carry the name recognition and history of excellence that Matta’s does.

Cons

Five years is a long time to be away from the game.

While that number is technically four, as he’s involved in Indiana’s hoops program, things change. His involvement in recruiting circles may have subsided to the point of starting over fresh. While his game acumen is highly regarded, will there be a need for season recruiters in order to succeed?

Furthermore, he’s made a nice career out of the game. He’s earned a very nice living and is currently paid handsomely for an office role that doesn’t require him to pound the pavement the way head coaches and assistants do. What is his taste for getting back into the game?

Several other former high major coaches have had recent success at peer programs. Lon Kruger at Oklahoma. Dana Altman at Oregon. And Rick Barnes at Tennessee. But each of those jumped directly from one head coaching job to the next with little time off.

Comparatively, Tom Crean sat out one year between coaching jobs at Indiana and Georgia. His results were… subpar. Bruce Pearl was off for three seasons, unwillingly, and has found a great deal of success at Auburn. So what can one reasonably expect? It’s difficult to say.


Poll

Which coach would you prefer to see leading Missouri next season?

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    Chris Mack
    (167 votes)
  • 61%
    Thad Matta
    (271 votes)
438 votes total Vote Now