Video: Winthrop drops Campbell, wins first Big South title since 2010
The Pat Kelsey to Xavier rumors are flying hot and heavy now.
Xavier men's basketball coach Chris Mack reportedly took the head job at Louisville on Tuesday, igniting murmurs that Kelsey, Winthrop's head coach since 2012, would be considered by his alma mater.
Kelsey grew up a Xavier fan. His dad, Mike, played there and the family oozes Cincinnati pride. Kelsey played and coached at the school. The links between Kelsey and a Xavier head coaching vacancy are only natural.
It's also natural that Winthrop's head coach wouldn't comment on any potential interest in the Xavier job when asked about it March 27.
"My policy is to never discuss or talk about any other situation but the one I'm in and those type of things are personal and are between my family and I," said Kelsey. "But I'd be happy and thrilled to talk about the job I have because it's a phenomenal one and I'm really lucky to be the head coach at Winthrop."
Winthrop athletic director Ken Halpin said he and Kelsey have very open communication and have talked numerous times since the Eagles' season ended about the program and projects that they're working on. As of Tuesday night, Halpin had not spoken with Kelsey about Xavier because the opening was only a few hours old.
Not new? Kelsey being linked with head coaching positions at other schools.
"He is a highly sought-after candidate, which he's earned," said Halpin. "So this is part of the process. But until something happens, I really don't want to speculate."
Mack was in charge of Xavier's program for nine years after taking over when Miller left for Arizona. Kelsey was Mack's associate head coach for the first two years, from 2009 to 2011. Mack led the Musketeers to at least 20 wins and the NCAA Tournament in eight of his nine seasons. Xavier was a No. 1 seed this year after winning the Big East championship and Mack leaves the school as its all-time leader in coaching wins.
"THIS PLACE has always had my heart," Mack said on Twitter.
Xavier AD Greg Christopher posted a Twitter message on March 27 saying the school would conduct a national search to find its new coach.
"Yes, there is disappointment today as we say goodbye to a coach and a friend but the level of excitement about our future is at a high level," Christopher said in the message.
During a press conference Tuesday evening, Christopher said little more than he would try to find the best coach for Xavier.
Mack's right-hand man, Travis Steele, is the favorite to land the job. Xavier has promoted from within the last two times it had a head coach opening, moves that produced Arizona's Sean Miller and Mack.
But it's widely believed that Kelsey will be considered, especially if, as Christopher suggested, a national search is conducted. Kelsey has six years of head coaching experience -- Steele has none -- and Kelsey can also point to his time coaching at the highest level of college basketball at Xavier and Wake Forest.
At Wake, Kelsey helped recruit multiple NBA players to Winston-Salem, including All-Star point guard Chris Paul. And at Winthrop, he's developed into a savvy international recruiter, especially in Australia. The Eagles had three Aussies on their roster this past season, including Big South player of the year Xavier Cooks.
Kelsey showed himself at Wake Forest and Winthrop to be a willing salesman of the program.
At his core, Kelsey is a Xavier guy.
He played there for Skip Prosser from 1996 to 1998, after transferring to his hometown school from Wyoming. Kelsey launched his coaching career at his high school alma mater, Elder, but was hired as the director of basketball operations by Prosser when he went to Wake Forest in 2001.
Kelsey coached at Wake for eight seasons, seven under Prosser and one under Dino Gaudio. Prosser was an outsized influence on Kelsey, who still quotes his mentor in seemingly every media interview he conducts and hired Prosser's son, Mark, as his associate head coach at Winthrop.
Prosser's tragic 2007 death after a jog crushed Kelsey's spirit, but he coached for four more years -- two of those at Xavier with Chris Mack -- before deciding to take a hiatus from the business.
Kelsey's connections to Prosser and Xavier are inextricably linked. Kelsey basically asked his way onto the Xavier team after leaving Wyoming, but Prosser made him earn a spot. Kelsey recalled to former ESPN writer Dana O'Neill about how Prosser invited him to join the Musketeers program.
"He had everyone put their hands in for the 1-2-3 Xavier, and right before, he stopped, moved a pile of bodies out of the way and invited me in,'' Kelsey said. "Then he said, 'OK, our team's complete now.' From that point on, if he asked me to run through 10 walls, I would have run through 15.''
After a year away from the game, Kelsey got the Winthrop head job in 2012. Whether he stays or goes, he has Winthrop men's basketball in a much stronger position than when he arrived in Rock Hill. His teams were 121-71 overall and 68-36 in Big South regular season games. Those records include five straight seasons with at least 19 wins and three campaigns with at least 20. The Eagles won 26 games in 2016-17 and got the school back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010.
Kelsey received head coaching interest from several schools in recent years and he very nearly left Winthrop last year, but decided 30 minutes before his introductory press conference at UMass that Winthrop was where he needed to be. He led the Eagles to a 19-12 record this season, though they lost in the Big South tournament semifinals to Radford.
Media reports said Mack's contract will pay him about $4 million annually for seven years as he tries to steer the proud Louisville program, embroiled in the FBI's college basketball investigation, through a tumultuous-looking future.
Mack also said in his Twitter post that the feeling he and his family had at Xavier had "made it so easy for me and my family to let opportunities outside of Xavier come and go. No other opportunity has felt "right", until now."
That's a feeling to which Kelsey might relate.