Welcome home Mick Cronin
Forgive him if he seemed a bit shocked, but Dan Cronin remembered the early days. Consequently, he was finding it hard to stand in a room full of TV cameras and realize his kid brother, Mick, had just declared to the world that he was landing his "dream job."
Dan heard Mick's introduction as the University of Cincinnati's 26th head basketball coach -- the Bearcats of the Big East, arguably the best basketball conference in the country and the team the Cronin family grew up loving. Yet Dan couldn't stop thinking about the way Mick, a UC student in the early '90s, hustled to every summer camp from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh in a beat-up '79 Cadillac to make connections, network with coaches and learn the game.
Dan thought of all the emotional conversations he had shared with Mick over the years and the crucial decisions that led his young career to March 24, 2006, when the 34-year-old opened his introductory press conference with a broad grin and a single fitting word -- "Wow."
"At 19 years old, Mick knew he was going to be a college basketball coach," recalls Dan, a Cincinnati mortgage broker. "I remember thinking, 'He's nuts. He isn't going to get a job.' He was driving around in a 12-year-old Cadillac with the grill in the trunk. He had not a dollar in his pocket and was working the parking lot at River Downs just for some cash.
"I remember saying to him, 'Mick, what are you going to do with your life?'"
At the time, 1991, Mick was the junior varsity coach at Woodward High, a Cincinnati public school. Even then, the fiery redhead was determined to break into the elite fraternity of collegiate coaches, determined to catch a break, determined to land with his feet planted firmly on the sideline of a college basketball floor and preferably in Clifton.
It was the same determination Mick showed in high school when he strapped on the clunky iron knee brace before every game of his senior year at La Salle. Though the point guard suffered a gruesome knee injury the end of his junior year, he returned to gut out the 1989-90 season and even led the city in assists.
"His senior year, I bet he didn't practice five times the whole season, but he played in all 20 games," Dan says. "He called me crying. I was at Bethel College playing basketball, and he'd say 'Dan, I can't do it, I can't do it.' And then he'd play on Friday. Then he'd be on crutches both Saturday and Sunday."
By age 22 and still pursuing his degree at UC, Cronin eventually landed a regional basketball gig running the Pittsburgh High School Round-ball Classic all-star game. The next year, he graduated with a UC history degree, and coach Bob Huggins hired him as his video coordinator.
"When Coach Huggins brought him on staff as video coordinator, I was like, 'My God, he really did get in," Dan admits. "Then all of a sudden, he started moving up. Huggins found out real quick that Mick could recruit and started sending him on the road."
Cronin was promoted to full-time assistant in 1997 and began making a name as one of the elite recruiters in the country. Among his UC successes were five Bearcat recruits who went on to be NBA draft picks: Steve Logan, DerMarr Johnson, Pete Mickeal, Kenny Satterfield and Jason Maxiell. Next Cronin left UC in 2001 to become Rick Pitino's associate head coach and recruiting coordinator at Louisville.
"When he left five years ago," his brother remembers, "he was sitting in my house, and he looked at me, and he said, 'I'm going to Louisville.' And I almost fell off of my chair.
"UC is everything to our family. It always was. So when he left, I said, 'You better have some good reasons, or you are going to get beat up by your brother.'"
In the end, Mick's difficult decision to leave the place he loved worked just as he planned. After assisting under Huggins, he put in two years under Pitino before accepting the head coaching position at Murray State in Kentucky, where he compiled a 69-23 record over three seasons, directing the Racers to two NCAA Tournament appearances.
For the Cronin brothers, everything has come full circle.
"I'm walking around in total shock," says Dan. "The phone hasn't stopped ringing from when his name rolled across that TV screen. It is a proud moment. It is good to have him home."
Mick Cronin shares his philosophy on many things
University of Cincinnati head basketball coach Mick Cronin on being named...
- "My former AD told me UC had asked for permission to talk to me. I had to act like I wasn't too excited. It was all I could do to get away so I could go cartwheelin' down the hall."
- "I'm still floating. I may not be the tallest person in the room, but right now I feel about as tall as Mike Reicheneker. Is he still the tallest Bearcat?"
- "No other college job, in my mind, is as good as this job."
- "People don't want to take your call when you are the Murray State coach. Since the ticker was running across [the ESPN screen] with my name last night, I've had people calling me about recruits. That hasn't happened in the last three years."
On this year's team...
- "They pulled together and played with incredible heart, desire and toughness, and that is the true trademark of Bearcat basketball. Those guys had to play their season in a time of uncertainty, and they made us proud."
On UC fans...
- "I think the emotion that has been conveyed from our fans throughout this season of uncertainty shows that we have the greatest fans in college basketball. It shows you how much they care about this program. People did not walk away."
On the future of UC basketball...
- "I am here because I believe we can win the national championship; we can compete for the Big East championship."
- "To those who say it's going to be tough, I didn't say it was going to be easy. It wasn't easy getting to this podium today. I haven't played in a Final Four, I'm not 6-foot-4, but I'm not afraid to roll my sleeves up."
- "I can assure our fans that we will leave no stone unturned [when it comes to recruiting this year]."
On why he was the right choice...
- "Ultimately what we do on the court will determine if I'm the guy -- and the way we conduct ourselves off the court and the way we perform in the classroom."
On his coaching philosophy...
- "No one person is bigger than the program, including the coach, including the players. You can always be replaced as a coach or as players."
- "You come to understand there is importance to standing tall in what you believe in. And kids have to understand that you have to follow rules and have discipline."
- "Personal development, growth and graduation are way ahead of winning games."
- "It is a lot easier to coach young men when they know that you really care about their personal development. That's always made everything else easier for me."
On his influences...
- "It starts with my father [Harold "Hep" Cronin, a scout for the Atlanta Braves]. When you are around coaches all your life, you think everybody knows how to attack an odd-numbered zone. You think that's normal as a 6-year-old. I came to find out that everybody didn't quite understand those things so quickly."
- "Obviously Coach Pitino and Coach Huggins are guys that are going to probably end up in the hall of fame. So when it comes to coaching at the collegiate level, I've been unbelievably blessed to work for two of the best."