Off The Hot Seat, But Not Sitting Still

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Before the season began, it was widely speculated that Cincinnati needed to make the NCAA Tournament or Mick Cronin would be fired. 


Moments before the Bearcats played what turned out to be their final game of a phenomenal season; I asked Mick if he expected to lose his job if UC hadn't made the tourney.


"Probably," he said.


Cronin suit.jpg 

Thankfully, that's no longer an issue.  Five years of methodically rebuilding the program without cutting corners has not only enhanced Coach Cronin's job security, but even resulted in a published report last week that Mick was one of the leading candidates to replace John Pelphrey at Arkansas.


"Nobody has contacted me - let's get that on the record," Coach Cronin said.  "Everybody knows that Cincinnati is my dream job.  It's my home and it's where I want to be.  All I'm really concerned about it making sure that the support of our program is commensurate with the expectations.  (Athletic Director) Mike Thomas is working on that with other people, but that's something he and I will discuss when the season is over.  Everybody knows where I want to be, but I do want to make sure that the support of our program is commensurate with the expectations in the Big East.  We have a lot of people in our league with big budgets, and big arenas that are full, and I'd like to try to win a national championship.  We have to continue to improve everything around our program."


As the Enquirer's Bill Koch reported last week, preliminary talks are underway between Mike Thomas and Coach Cronin's agent about a contract extension.  But Mick's immediate priority is to add at least one big man to a recruiting class that is currently rated 22nd in the country by ESPNU.  Consider the following tweet that Coach Cronin sent to his Twitter followers on the morning after the UConn loss:


Just touched down in Cincinnati. Now its time for the staff and me to hit the recruiting trail. Guys will get the week off for spring break.


UC has already signed five players for next year including three that are ranked in the Rivals Top 150 (Jeremiah Davis #123, Shaquille Thomas #132, Jermaine Sanders #134).  A 26-9 season and a trip to the NCAA Tournament figures to help future recruiting efforts.    


"The hardest thing in recruiting is to get kids to believe in something that they can't see," Coach Cronin said.  "The difference for us now is our recruits can see it.  We don't have to sell a dream or a vision.  We can pop in a tape and show them a team with 26 wins and a team that's won more games five straight years, a coaching staff that's helped players improve each year, that's graduated their players, stood by their players in tough times.  So now it's easier from a recruiting standpoint."


I don't know about you, but I'm already excited about next year's team - especially after Yancy Gates publically stated that he will be back for his senior season.  Yes, we all remember similar statements from Lance Stephenson at this time last year, but Coach Cronin sounds confident that Gates will not change his mind. 


"His father and I talk all of the time about the situation and it's always been the plan for him to play all four years," Mick told me.  "So many college players are a little bit older because they go to prep school or redshirt, but Yancy is still young.  I think his family recognizes that and Yancy deserves credit because he understands it too.  It's always been his intention to play four years at Cincinnati."


Yancy finished his junior year averaging roughly 12 points and 7 rebounds, but in the final 10 games of the year (after getting booed at home vs. St. John's), those averages rose to 15 points and 7.9 rebounds.  Coach Cronin downplays the role he played in Yancy's turnaround.


"You have to give credit to the player when he plays more consistently and matures," Mick said.  "In college basketball, I think coaches are given too much credit for everything that goes well.  I give Yancy all the credit.  I think he's realized that when he plays well and has the right attitude and energy, he has a great impact on our team.  He's looked up to by his teammates and you can see the difference that he's made." 


Assuming that Yancy returns, perhaps the biggest off-season concern will be the Cashmere Wright's troublesome left knee.  The sophomore guard told me after Saturday's game that he'll have another surgical procedure next week after returning from spring break.


"He's been beat up a little bit down the stretch and that's the nature of his knee injury," said assistant coach Larry Davis.  "It's nothing major, but he's going to have to have it cleaned out a little bit.  You could see at times that he was hurting.  In the huddles he was biting on a towel because he was in pain."


Next year the Bearcats will have their top four scorers back, along with their leader in rebounding, assists, blocked shots, and steals.  That sounds like a NCAA Tournament team - led by a coach who won't be on the hot seat. 


"But I'll probably still feel that way next year," Coach Cronin said with a laugh.  "The life of a coach is a funny existence.  I got a trial by fire as a young coach at Murray State.  I went to the NCAA Tournament my first year, but my second year we did not.  Before my third year, I was shopping at Kroger and a guy wished me well.  He said, 'I hope you do well because I would like you to stick around.'  I said, 'What do you mean?'  He said, 'You have to go the tournament this year.  You can't miss it two years in a row.'  So I understood really early as a coach that you had better win.  That's just part of our business."


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