Is Mick Cronin Really Underappreciated?

posted by Mo Egger, ESPN1530 -

Mick Cronin is underappreciated.  That's what I hear, and over the last few weeks, it's what I've read.

My buddy Lance says Mick is the most underappreciated Cincinnati sports figure of his lifetime.

This UC-centric blog says it's time that we appreciate Mick.

This national college basketball writer says Mick is, you guessed it, underappreciated.

Paul Daugherty didn't go with underappreciated, but the lack of love for Mick was a theme of this post-300th win blog post earlier this week.

If everyone is saying that you're underappreciated, are you really that underappreciated?

The bigger question is, who that matters, doesn't appreciate what Mick has done, and is doing?

OK, let's get this part out of the way. Mick has done a damn fine job at the University of Cincinnati. The work has been remarkable given both the obstacles he and the toxic environment that loomed over the program in his initial seasons as head coach, and the challenges like the arena situation and conference instability that he's had to deal with in recent years.  He's about to guide the Bearcats to a seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament, which is an exceptional feat.  They have a good chance to advance in March for a fifth time within those seven years.  His teams are continually lauded for how hard they play, and things like defensive effort and toughness have become bona fide UC basketball trademarks.  His players have not gotten in trouble, the program hasn't been in the NCAA's cross-hairs, and during a time of almost constant change - both positive and negative - in UC athletics, Mick's program has been a picture of stability.

He's a very, very good coach and the program he runs is in very good hands.

But who doesn't know that by now?

Who doesn't appreciate Mick?

National media? If you're not Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari, Tom Izzo, Roy Williams, Bill Self, or Rick Pitino, you're probably never really going to get the run you deserve. There's a very, very lengthy list of coaches who excel while working in relative obscurity who would kill to get the attention that even Mick gets. There's also a very accomplished group of coaches - Jay Wright, Bob Huggins, Sean Miller, Archie Miller, Chris Mack, Mark Few - just to name a handful, who get plenty of national love, but whose genuine coaching chops get overlooked for whatever reason.

I'd argue that the most powerful and talked-about coach in the sport, Calipari, has teaching and team-molding skills that aren't discussed to the extent they should be.

To be a college basketball coach is to be underappreciated by media standards. It's a sport with more than 300 teams, 68 of them make the relevant part of the postseason. There's only so much room to talk about every one of their coaches.

Who else doesn't appreciate Mick?

Fans of other programs?  If so, big deal.  I never concern myself with what someone who doesn't root for my team says about them, and for a lot of fans - regardless of sport - to be supporter of one team means belittling the accomplishments of another.  You think Carolina fans don't roll their eyes when Coach K's win total is brought up? Do Kentucky fans look down their noses at the success Pitino has had at Louisville? Ever overhear a group of UC fans sitting around talking about the great work Mack is doing across town?

No. 

Who else? 

Oh, the Huggins holdover, huh? They do exist, still, 12 years after Bob's final game at UC.  Maybe they're not as plentiful in volume as they once were, but you can still find them, wistfully pining for yesteryear, telling their favorite Bob story for the billionth time, still trying to fit into their Jordan Brand Bearcats gear while lamenting the loss of their favorite coach like a jilted ex-girlfriend who'd rather social media stalk their former lover that they haven't talked to in years then jump back into the dating pool. Those people haven't moved on, they're not moving on, and they're not UC fans, they're Bob Huggins fans, which is fine.

But their opinions about UC basketball, post-2005 don't matter.

Who's left?

Oh, UC fans.  The only people that, for the purposes of this discussion, actually matter.

Is there a significant enough number of UC fans that have failed to appreciate Mick's work that he's legitimately underappreciated?

Where are they?

I don't claim to have my finger on the pulse of the entire UC fan base, but I feel very comfortable in saying that I don't believe there's many Bearcats fans who don't have some level of appreciation for Mick, the job he's done, the work he's doing, the way the program is run, the players who play and have played for him, and the things he's had to deal with and overcome to not only rebuild, but maintain the program.

Are there UC fans who don't like Mick? Sure. Are there UC fans who might question certain strategies and coaching philosophies?  Of course. Are there fans who can't look beyond that and at least acknowledge what's he's accomplished.  

If so, there aren't many of them. And I certainly don't hear from them.

This wasn't always the case.  There was a time when patience with the re-establishment of UC basketball was running a little thin, and the residual hurt feelings of the Huggins departure left some fans completely refusing to even admit that the task that Mick took on when he took the job was an exceptionally difficult one. But as the program has re-emerged, as time has eased the pain of the way Huggins' departure has handled, and most importantly, as Mick has continued to assemble NCAA Tournament teams while recruiting better and better players, I think even some of the loudest Mick Cronin detractors have come around to at least admit - even if begrudgingly - that the guy has done, and is doing, a very, very good job.

Some have even been willing to admit that they were wrong about him.

Maybe the people who cover college basketball spend as much time on Mick as they do on Cal, Roy, Rick, and Coach K. Maybe fans of other programs will never give Mick, or any other coach who isn't theirs, their complete deserved due.  Maybe the remaining Huggins zealots are lost causes. But the people who care for, and love UC basketball - the people whose opinions about UC basketball are actually relevant - have an immense amount of well-earned appreciation for Mick Cronin.

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Mo Egger

Mo Egger

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