Let's face it; the last six years haven't been easy for Mick Cronin.
The program was an absolute mess when he took the job. A huge portion of the fan base was still pining for his former boss. And steady progress didn't satisfy many people who had grown accustomed to Top 25 rankings and annual trips to the NCAA Tournament.
Mick's critics were vocal and often vicious. But if that bothered him, Coach Cronin never let it show.
"People are going to be skeptical - it's only natural," Mick told me. "That's the nature of the beast and if you let that bother you, then they're right. You should have never been appointed the head coach if you're not tough enough to stay focused on what's important.
"I knew everything that was going to happen when I took the job. People in Cincinnati knew me as a young guy from the west side or as an assistant coach. They didn't know me as a head coach. It was interesting when I went to Murray State - I was immediately accepted as a head coach because nearly every young assistant that has gone to Murray State has been wildly successful. So there wasn't a big barrier of people saying, 'Can this guy be a head coach?' Cincinnati had a great coach that had resurrected the program in the modern era who didn't leave on the best of terms. Who was happy about that? I wasn't happy about it in Murray, Kentucky."
When Mick took the job in March of 2006, some of his friends in the coaching profession thought he was nuts to take on the challenge and destined to fail. But Cronin reasoned that getting his dream job was worth the time and effort required to rebuild the program.
"The Cincinnati job was obviously in a bad spot at the time, but what if I would have passed on it?" said Cronin. "What if somebody would have come in and done a good job and rebuilt the program and I would have never had the chance again? In life, you can't always have everything. If you get a chance to get the job that you've coveted your whole life since you realized that you're a midget and your playing days are over - you can't also want it to be in great shape.
"Sometimes you have to take a chance and believe in yourself. It hasn't been easy - I'm not going to lie - but at the same time, I think that sometimes in coaching, to get what you want, you have to be willing to take a chance and find out if you're cut out for it. I don't want to talk about how tough it's been too much because it's also been the opportunity of a lifetime. No matter what happens for me, I'll always get to say that I was the head coach of the Bearcats."
Over the last two seasons, Mick Cronin has led his Alma mater to 52 wins, two NCAA tournament trips, a Sweet 16 appearance, and a runner-up finish in the Big East Tournament. Additionally, he was widely praised for his postgame reaction to the Crosstown Shootout brawl.
If my e-mail inbox is any indication, Mick has turned many of his former critics into supporters who are now thrilled that Cincinnati has a young, successful head coach that wants to stay here.
But Coach Cronin's reaction to acclaim isn't much different from his reaction to blame.
"It's a constant proving ground - it doesn't matter who you are," Mick told me. "You have to focus on doing your job. You have to ignore criticism and deflect praise and just try to get better every day.
"You can't take that stuff personally. You just do your job and in time, everything will work itself out. But you have to get your job done and my job is far from done."
Not as far as it was six years ago.
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