When Mick Cronin became Cincinnati's twenty-sixth head basketball coach in March of 2006, he said it was his dream job. Even after twenty-six losses in forty-one games, Cronin still seems to view his position as a dream come true and not a nightmare that doesn't end.
Other than maybe Tony Yates in 1983, no Bearcat head basketball coach inherited a tougher situation, and to make matters worse, Cronin is in a world totally unfamiliar to him. He's used to winning and winning big. As a Cincinnati and Louisville assistant coach for six years, Mick helped coach teams that posted a combined 152-46 record. All six squads played in the postseason with five of them winning at least one game in the NCAA tourney. In three seasons as the head coach at Murray State, Coach Cronin's clubs went 69-24 with two more NCAA appearances.
The LaSalle High School grad has never lost on the college level until last season's 11-17 record, and there were times earlier this year after losses to Belmont and Bowling Green when the thirty-six year old head coach looked and sounded totally frustrated.
But good coaches don't stay frustrated for long. They can't afford to, and Cronin seems to be finding ways to tap into his team's potential. After the Xavier loss, Mick went to work on his team's psyche. "What I'm hoping is that the guys themselves, the players, will feel better and will believe more, because I don't want them to get down. Hopefully, they draw the positives from Wednesday night and start to see what we're really capable of."
One week later after battling the #2 Memphis Tigers for most of the game, Cronin said, "I don't want those guys to feel like we should just be happy that we're improving, and we're competing at a higher level and playing with more intensity. At the end of the day, you need to be happy when you win."
Most recently after dropping a tough road game, this time to North Carolina State, Cronin let his players know that he was willing to shoulder the bulk of the responsibility, "They're telling you they don't listen, but the job of the coach is to get that done. My job is to make sure it's second nature on what to do when they're out there." This is certainly a different approach to past seasons when Bearcat fans repeatedly heard on post game radio shows that the players were solely at fault because they didn't listen.
When Bearcat Insider spoke with Coach Cronin on the eve of the Miami of Ohio game, he again took his share of the responsibility for occasion lapses in Rashad Bishop's play. "I'm learning how to coach him because his intensity isn't where it needs to be sometimes, but that's something we'll both work on."
Coach Cronin is not naïve. He knows many fans want the instant gratification that winning brings, but he likened the development of his team with that of building a house. "You say things as a coach and people read them, but I'm not sure if they realize how real they are like when I say, ‘We're going to be a work in progress.' When they build your house, it isn't going to look the same every week. It's going to look different. Last year, we were who we were. We just didn't have many parts, but we're slowly building our house. And each week that you come back, it's going to look different. We just need to make sure it continues to look better as the season goes on. I think we've definitely been doing that."
Injuries and an incredibly difficult schedule have further sabotaged the early part of this season as Coach Cronin explained. "If there is anything I'd like to change, it's the schedule we've played and Jamual's injury. That injury really threw us back. It cost us two wins."
As the Bearcats prepare for Saturday night's game with Miami, their oldest and most often played rival, Coach Cronin continues to nurture his players and rebuild a once proud program. Earlier in the season, the squad looked occasionally like that nightmarish 1983 Bearcat team that posted a 3-25 record, but more recently, Cronin has many Bearcat basketball fans dreaming of what used to be.
Cronin Nurturing His Troops
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