Dear University of Cincinnati Men’s Basketball Fans:
I’m not going to sugarcoat this: You hate your own coach, and that’s messed up.
Anyone seeking evidence of your contempt for Mick Cronin need look no further than the comments section of The Cincinnati Enquirer website. When the Bearcats suffered a putrid loss to Presbyterian in November (that’s right, they lost to the freakin’ Presbyterian Blue Hose), the hundreds of comments conveyed your rage in waves. Of the first 10, eight were removed for containing objectionable material. The other two? “Coach ’em up, elf, if you can,” and “Fire the turd”—both in reference to poor coach Cronin.
All the empty seats at Fifth Third Arena, a place some of you haven’t visited since Bob Huggins was forced to resign in 2005, represent another clear sign of your disdain. In the glory days of the 1990s, sellouts were common, but under Cronin, Cincinnati annually ranks near the bottom of the Big East in attendance. The Bearcats finally returned to the NCAA tournament last season but it did little to thaw your icy hearts.
So I’m writing this letter as a wake-up call. Huggins ain’t coming back, and the negativity needs to stop. What do you have against Mick, anyway? Allow me to consider—and refute—your many petty grievances.
For some of you, the problem dates all the way back to college, when Cronin didn’t even play basketball. As an undergraduate at UC, he coached the junior varsity team at Woodward High. That’s right, a stinkin’ JV team. The “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” jokes never get old with you guys. But over three seasons, Cronin’s JV squad went 57–3. And you know who else started out as a JV coach? Xavier’s Chris Mack. Bottom line: Unless the NCAA decides to replace overtime with tie-breaking one-on-one games between coaches, Cronin’s game (or lack thereof) is irrelevant.
From there, the Mick-bashing argument turns to 2001, when you say Cronin turned his back on the Bearcats. It’s technically true. He was on Huggins’s staff for five seasons, then heretically left to coach under Rick Pitino at Louisville.
OK, but changing jobs is part of the profession. (You know that, right?) Call me crazy, but Cronin seems loyal to a fault. The guy grew up here, went to UC, came back to coach the Bearcats when the program was in shambles, and has stayed for six seasons despite offers to go elsewhere and very little enticement from any of you to stay.
While grudgingly acknowledging UC’s success last year, you say it took Cronin too long to turn the program around. After all, Cincinnati made the NCAA tournament 14 years in a row under Huggins. It took Cronin five years to notch one appearance. A program with Cincinnati’s rich history demands not just excellence, but consistent excellence.
Here’s the problem: Although Huggins won, he ran a program with a national reputation for academic ineptitude and players on their worst behavior. When Cronin stepped in the cupboard was bare, but he has largely done things the right way by avoiding shortcuts. Last year, with the team teetering on the edge of the NCAA tournament bubble, Cronin suspended star Yancy Gates for insubordination, prioritizing teaching over winning. Can you imagine Bob Huggins doing that?
Those of you with high basketball IQs argue that Cronin’s lack of offensive acumen and insistence on grinding the pace of the game to a halt make watching the Bearcats an excruciating experience. But if you’re such hoops junkies, you should also be able to appreciate the Bearcats’ exceptional effort at the other end of the floor. Truly, their defensive tenacity is a testament to Cronin’s motivational powers.
Your prevailing excuse for the poor attendance is UC’s uninspiring nonconference schedule (what Dick Vitale would call “cupcake city”). I’d love to see the Bearcats play better opponents, but sadly, pounding patsies has become an early season tradition for major conference teams. In Huggins’s last year, Cincinnati beat down several no-name foes, including the Longwood Lancers, who finished 1–30. Now that UC has moved to the more competitive Big East, there is even less incentive to play powerhouse schools in November.
That leaves only the most visceral—and honest—argument: Just look at Mick Cronin; he’s small-time. His sideline demeanor is roughly akin to that of a fish out of water, flopping and flailing. His closest celebrity lookalikes are the Lucky Charms leprechaun (elfin redhead) and Casper the Friendly Ghost (translucent, bald). Compared to Huggins’s aggressive type A personality, Cronin is a type Z.
I won’t object to those points so much as repurpose them. Like it or not, Cincinnati is an underdog town, one that should embrace an underdog coach. Sure, the exodus of talented folks to the coasts hurts our collective self-esteem, but look at the way you treat Cronin. Why would anyone want to stay? Cincinnati has a muddy river, a laughingstock NFL team, a history of pork, and Mick Cronin. Be proud, people.
If you’re ever going to accept him into your hearts, now is the come-to-Cronin moment. In December, he emerged from the sickening Crosstown Shootout brawl as the voice of reason. “There is no excuse for any of it,” he said. “On our side, on their side, guys need to grow up.... These kids all need to realize they are here to get an education.”
Those hardline statements looked especially good in comparison to the excuse-tainted, I’m-sorry-but apologies of Chris Mack. (Most egregious, Mack claimed that Tu Holloway, who initially said he was proud of the fight and admitted to instigating it, “made a mistake with his wording [by saying ‘gangster’] and not his intention”—ostensibly to be a tough guy who starts fights.)
And how’s this for perspective from Cronin: “We are trying to cure cancer at Cincinnati. I go to school at a place where they discovered the vaccine for polio. I think that’s more important than who wins a basketball game.”
So there you have it: If you hate cancer, you ought to love Cronin.
Slow and SteadyIn Cronin’s first season, the Bearcats went 11–19 (2–14 in the Big East), including an especially woeful loss to the Wofford Terriers, a team that went on to lose 12 of its next 13 games. Since then, the Bearcats have increased their win total every season under Cronin, culminating with a 26-win campaign in 2010–11.
Winning RacersBefore taking over at UC, Cronin spent three seasons as the head coach of the Murray State Racers, compiling a 69–24 record and making two appearances in the NCAA tournament.
Streak StarterAfter the brawl, UC suspended four players, including center Yancy Gates. Without his post presence, Cronin switched to a more free-flowing offense, and the Bearcats won all six games while Gates was out.
Call to ArmsSo you’re a UC student who wants to help the coach? Here’s an idea: Gather some friends and start a special cheering section. Call it Cronin’s Crazies. Make a Facebook page to recruit reinforcements, attend every game, bring signs, dress up, and be loud. Make Mick feel the love.
Illustration by Alex Fine.Originally published in the February 2012 issue.
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