Xavier University announced March 31 that Travis Steele would be the head coach successor to former head coach Chris Mack.
The Enquirer / Pat Brennan
The Travis Steele era at Xavier University’s men’s basketball program arrived Saturday.
Steele, 36, a graduate of Butler University and a Xavier assistant holdover from the program’s Sean Miller era, was announced as the 18th head coach in program history Saturday afternoon, just four days on from the departure of former head coach Chris Mack.
Steele and Xavier Athletic Director Greg Christopher met in San Antonio around Final Four festivities for an interview. By midday Saturday, the two posted a picture to Twitter via Steele’s account announcing the hire.
The Enquirer then confirmed the hiring through Steele.
Xavier will introduce Steele at some point next week. The university is closed Monday.
The details of Steele’s Xavier deal weren’t immediately provided. Steele also said he hasn’t filled out his coaching and support staff positions yet.
Steele’s hire marks the beginning of a new chapter in Xavier basketball, one in which Steele’s overarching aim will be to “finish the last two percent,” as he and Christopher described in separate interviews Saturday with The Enquirer.
“I use the metaphor a little bit of climbing a mountain. What we have done is incredible. Chris Mack was incredible,” Steele said. “I think we have to start looking at how can we climb the last two percent of that mountain, and that’s the hardest part of the mountain to climb… We’re building it the right way.”
For Xavier and Christopher, the process that led to the final selection of Steele started around 10 a.m. Tuesday after Mack informed the department he’d be leaving for Louisville.
From Tuesday through Friday, Christopher said he was making frequent calls to vet candidates and judge the landscape of the college coaching industry. Christopher said Xavier started with a candidate list of 12. That list was narrowed to seven with interviews taking place Thursday and Friday.
“Specific to Travis, to some degree, we knew a lot of positives going into this,” Christopher said. “But I’ll tell you through talking with him over the phone the last, really, few days and then spending two-plus hours with him in an interview, I was really impressed with how his vision came out, with how he’d run a program.
“How he would address that last two percent for this program to step forward and, frankly, he wasn’t afraid to talk about the gaps that we might have or a couple places where he would tighten things up and changes he would be ready to make and will be making. Bottomline, I really see him as that CEO sitting in the chair for our program.”
Xavier under Steele will look similar to how it did just days ago under Mack, and why deviate from the current path?
The Mack era will likely appear to bleed into the Steele era just because the two coaches share so many similarities. They worked together for as co-assistant coaches under Miller and then as head coach-assistant coach for the last nine seasons.
Xavier’s also in the midst of a period of unprecedented success with an Elite Eight run (2016-17) sandwiched in between NCAA Tournament No. 2 and No. 1 seeds in 2015-16 and this past season, respectively.
“A lot of what we do is going to stay the same,” Steele said. “We’re trying to build on what we had, just like Chris did with Sean Miller and Sean Miller did.”
There will be distinct differences in the program under Steele, too.
“I have a different personality than Chris,” Steele said. “I think I like to crack jokes a little bit more. I’m a little bit more, maybe I shouldn’t say this, but outgoing, maybe, a little bit.”
Steele’s first order of business, he said, will be reaching out to current players. All of them were recruited by Steele to some degree.
After that, Steele said, he’ll turn his attention to the recruiting trail. That’s an area he excelled while serving Mack as an assistant, and there’s some mending to do there in the wake of Mack’s departure.
Xavier’s already lost a graduate transfer commitment for next season in Evan Boudreaux, who re-opened his recruitment when Mack left and quickly signed with Purdue.
The Musketeers’ three commitments for the class of 2018 and one for 2019 are likely watching Xavier to see what happens next and if they’ll remain committed.
“Recruiting never stops and we’ve got to make sure that everything is good, set and ready to go,” Steele said.