This was originally published in The Athletic.
There are a lot of things about the job that Mick Cronin is leaving that make it an easier gig than when he took it 13 years ago. For starters, even if there’s some attrition due to the coaching change, Mick’s replacement will actually inherit some players, possibly including some darn good ones. It won’t be like it was in March of 2006 when the new guy took over a team that included Cedric McGowan and a bunch of empty lockers.
Cronin’s successor will be coaching in a conference that’s neither without merit or quality coaches, but learning the ropes at UC while trying to navigate waters the American Athletic Conference is nothing compared to swimming upstream in the old Big East.
And even if the next head coach isn’t universally embraced by Cincinnati fans, chances are that he won’t have to endure the same toxicity among the program’s support base that Cronin had to put up with when he took over. Bob Huggins’ shadow might forever loom over UC basketball, but not quite as largely for the next guy as it always did for Mick.
But what will loom large over whomever Mike Bohn chooses to be his next men’s basketball coach will be what Cronin did across 13 seasons. The obvious standout achievement is making nine consecutive NCAA Tournaments since 2011, but that simply caps off a lengthy list of accomplishments. That includes the complete rebuilding of a program that began while the school was a member of the most difficult basketball conference ever assembled. It took place while the program’s academic reputation was being repaired, without corners being cut, and with no NCAA or federal investigators paying visits to Clifton.
To allege that Cronin simply rebuilt UC basketball ignores that atmosphere of hostility he was greeted with by large, loud chunks of so-called Bearcats fans that from day one seemed determined to never give him a legit chance to win them over. It ignores that conditions accompanying the mandate he was working under, which was to achieve and sustain success by gradually improving the caliber of the players he brought in, all while playing in an outdated arena and as the school essentially sat idle as the tectonics of conference realignment shifted things out of both his program’s, and the school’s favor.
Did I mention the nine straight NCAA Tournaments?
Judging solely by what Cronin was charged with doing when he became UC’s head coach after the years of Bob Huggins v. Nancy Zimpher drama that preceded him, his 13-year tenure was a smashing success. Not without its low points, or regrettable moments, or even times a lot of us rolled our eyes at whatever Mick was saying or doing, but yes, the Mick Cronin Era was an emphatic success.
Cronin didn’t just re-establish UC basketball, he ensured that once the program returned to prominence, it stayed relevant, returning Cincinnati’s status as an NCAA Tournament mainstay. All of that with no hint of cheating and few off-court problems to speak of. Fifth Third Arena finally got a makeover, something that happened in no small part due to the re-energizing of a fan base that returned once Mick’s teams started winning. Cronin-coached teams have included some of the most accomplished and beloved players in Cincinnati’s vast and storied basketball history. Sean Kilpatrick, Gary Clark, Jacob Evans, Jarron Cumberland – to name just a handful – have each carved out places among the program’s legends, an obvious testament to each player’s own talents and effort, but also endearing examples of the payoff for Cronin and his staff’s recruiting and coaching. There have been conference regular-season and tournament titles, and even as a lack of consistent postseason success became part of the program’s brand, it’s rarely been in doubt the past nine years on Selection Sunday, the Bearcats would have their name called.
The new guy will be tasked with continuing and maintaining everything that Cronin was able to do, but he’ll also be given a directive, either spoken or non-, unlike any given to any UC head coach in decades: Maintain the current success, keep everything above board, but get better playersandwin more consistently in March.
Easily said, right?
To read the entire piece, go to The Athletic.