On Mick and Being Grateful

Progress.

Unlike destruction, progress is not easily observed with the naked eye. Destruction, however, can be readily identified. Most can point to a date when something was destroyed. Progress unfolds over a period of time … often behind closed doors. Destruction is abrupt. And public.

What Michael Walter “Mick” Cronin has done with the Cincinnati Bearcats basketball program since he took over on March 23, 2006, is no small feat. As he walked into his office in the Richard E. Lindner Center on day one, the program was smoldering in ashes following an abrupt destruction. His predecessor, Bob Huggins, was publicly deposed on August 24, 2005. In Clifton, Huggins left behind (i) a brand-name legacy, (ii) no brand-name players, and (iii) a fan base with brand-name expectations. Yet there was no recruiting infrastructure as the pipeline followed Huggins to Manhattan, Kansas for his new coaching assignment at Kansas State.

The program in ruins, the sky wasn’t just falling. It had fallen … all the way down to the Clifton concrete. Coach Cronin stopped just short of recruiting players from intramural teams and physical education classes.

Fast Forward to Today.

Today, the Bearcats achieved their highest ranking in the AP poll since January of 2004. If the Bearcats keep winning, they’ll likely reach a Top 5 ranking, as two teams ranked ahead, Michigan State and Purdue, play each other this week. In about a decade, Mick has anxiously, privately, methodically, and aggressively led UC back to national prominence.

The stress of the UC rebuilding project nearly killed him. In December of 2014, Mick was sidelined from coaching with an unruptured aneurysm. The cause of the aneurysm? What do you think — have you watched him stalk the side of the court, barking instruction to players and referees alike?

Consistency Is Sexy.

The Bearcats’ progress hasn’t been sexy. The Cronin era doesn’t yet feature a deep run in March. UC doesn’t play the flashiest brand of basketball. Throughout the years, I’ve caught myself wincing while watching the Bearcats run offensive sets.

Cronin’s defense-first approach to the game is methodical. The formula is pretty simple: if you want to see the court, play tougher than the other guys on the bench. It’s a blue-collar, metal-lunchbox-toting, wake-up-every-day-without-hitting-the-snooze-button brand of basketball.

While UC’s progress hasn’t been sexy, Mick Cronin’s consistency has. He’s weathered numerous athletic director administrations and outstayed five football coaches. His short build, bald head, and intense approach to the game have become synonymous with the C Paw on UC’s jerseys. Underestimated by critics of Cronin’s brand of basketball, his tenure nearly guarantees that, when he walks into a high school gym or AAU tournament, recruits know who he is and where he’ll likely be … should they commit to play at the University of Cincinnati.

Let me be the first to concede that Coach Cronin isn’t the warmest coach I’ve covered. He can be prickly and private. Occasionally I wonder why he’s so defensive and standoffish. I’ve been covering the program for several years now, and I can count the number of personal conversations I’ve had with him on three fingers. But who cares? I know I don’t.

If I’m hiring a head basketball coach (or any coach), I don’t need a warm-bath-conversationalist. I want a coach who will worry himself aneurysm-sick to win, who willingly imperils his personal health to raise his hometown program from the ashes. I don’t need a coach who paints the press with absurd coach-speak or slick slogans. Give me the bald Irishman who doesn’t suffer fools, is obsessed with winning, and who tries to leave young men better than he found them.

Coach Cronin’s dad met his mom where the Bearcats baseball field currently sits. His connection to Clifton, the University of Cincinnati, and the City of Cincinnati runs deeper than opportunism. He has Bearcat blood coursing through his veins.

Stop and Smell the Roses.

In light of the foregoing, can I ask a favor? May I offer a word of encouragement to you, loyal readers and stewards of Bearcat Nation? For the love of God, PLEASE STOP COMPLAINING!

Don’t miss this moment. We dodged a bullet thanks to the sexy consistency of Mick Cronin. Take a second to be grateful. For your own good, please. For our own good, please.

WE ARE 21-2 AND RANKED 6TH IN THE NATION!

THIS IS OUR LAST SEASON WITH GARY CLARK AND KYLE WASHINGTON!

THIS COULD BE OUR LAST SEASON WITH JACOB EVANS III!

Of all seasons, this is the year to enjoy. The on-court product is fun to watch. The players all bring their unique, fun personalities and characters to the game. As a team, the players blend and trust each other.

Become a Possibilist

I’m not from Cincinnati, originally. I’m from Indianapolis; however, I’ve lived in the Queen City for nearly two decades and now consider it my forever home. That is … whether I succeed or fail in this life, I do not know; I just know it’ll be from the muddy banks of the Ohio River.

Yet, I still struggle to understand all the quirks that fully form the Cincinnatian’s psychological makeup…

Where I grew up in Indiana it was not uncommon for people to positively describe themselves as an “optimist.” Here, optimist is a pejorative term, especially in certain parts of the city. In describing the difference between people from Indiana and parts of Cincinnati to a colleague the other day, I used the following example:

If a young Indiana boy tells his parents he wants to be an astronaut, they’ll remark, “That’s great, shoot for the moon and you’re sure to at least make it to the stars.” If a young Cincinnati boy tells his parents he wants to be an astronaut, they’ll remark, “That seems impractical considering you’re not very good at math and interest on your student loans is going to bury you.” It’s worth noting that I am not sure which approach is best for the child, in the long run; it probably depends on the child.

Cognitive psychologists use a term called “Negativity Bias” to describe humanity’s habit of focusing on the downside of issues, even where upside is obvious and present. Negativity bias leads people to dread losses more than gains, and causes criticism to hurt more than pleasure feels enjoyable. At times during this remarkable season, I’ve watched our Cincinnati fan base snatch cynicism and negativity from the jaws of joy.

In the last week, I read along as fans unloaded a disproportionate and unwarranted amount of venom on a local reporter, Shannon Russell. Her crime? She was the beat reporter for the other university in Norwood, Ohio. Like other journalists who have had difficulty finding their legs in the new digital media landscape, she has ping-ponged to a couple of outlets. A new online platform picked her up to cover the college in Norwood and she agreed to cover UC until they found another reporter. Russell was blasted because she live-tweeted the other team’s game, and gave short shrift to the Bearcats victory over UConn. To me, it all felt small.

I don’t really know Ms. Russell, but I’m glad she’s found a position somewhere in her chosen field. More to the point, though, I simply don’t understand focusing on a new media outlet’s coverage when the Bearcats are 21-2 and clicking on all cylinders. And I don’t want anyone to miss the grandeur of this team and moment.

Look, I know enough about Cincinnati to not encourage everyone to become an optimist. But will you consider becoming a “possibilist?”

Can you shift your mindset, ever so slightly, to believe it’s possible the NCAA selection committee won’t conspire against UC when seeding the tournament? Can you believe it’s possible the Cincinnati sports curse is not real, or at least not determinative of this team’s potential? Can you believe it’s possible this Bearcats team could win the national championship and hang a banner this year?

Finally, if this team does win it all, can you promise to not complain about the color of the banner? Or how the banner is hung in the new arena? Or the way the banner is illuminated?

By: Brian Fox

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