How UC It: Keep Mick Cronin

MIKEDROPSPORTS talks to former Cincinnati QB Ben Mauk

We hear you.

Trust me, we do.

Not so much after a win—and you’ve had 89 chances the last 3 seasons. More so after one of the 19 losses in that same time span. That’s when the naysayers begin to wiggle out of the woodwork.

Their voices–rather, keystrokes—quickly become as venomous as they are constant. They kick the horse even though they know that damn thing is long dead.

And they grow more and more poisonous when UC bows out of the NCAA tournament each March.

“Fire him!”

“Let him walk!”

“He has to go!”

I’m here to tell you to stop. Not asking.

Stop looking for reasons to be unhappy. Quit creating narratives to fit the pre-conceived fantasy you’ve fashioned in your suddenly overactive brain. Like you know oh-so-damn-much. Parent coaches is what I like to call you.

Just shut-up.

Why don’t you put that energy into the completeness that is UC basketball? Yes. That means fully supporting the coach and players.

89-19 the last 3 seasons. Two AAC Players of the year. Two AAC Tournament titles in three straight championship game appearances. Kids that keep their nose clean and paint the university in an upstanding light. A coach that graduates those kids. A coach that bleeds red and black like you and me.

Appreciating the culture.

Appreciating what’s been built, cultivated, and sustained.

***

I grew up in Milan, Indiana. A town where basketball will forever be immortalized. I was baptized in a hoop and fed bedtime stories that didn’t involve princes slaying dragons and rescuing princesses. Instead they involved Bobby Plump knocking down a jumper to slay mighty Muncie Central.

Basketball was in my blood. And as a youth I was afforded my choice of schools to root for. There was always popular Indiana—a rich and proud program with a pedigree for winning national championships. Purdue had a decent sized faction of fans and a young pup named Glenn Robinson was winning over America. Kentucky would have been a solid choice (according to their fans). It wasn’t until I was 8 years old that my dad happened to turn on the TV on a November night. As that bulky box that sat squarely on the living room floor of our living room slowly came into a grainy focus I heard a commentator say the name, “Van Exel” and my attention had been grabbed. I remember thinking about how cool of a last name that was. Then I watched him. Lightning fast and crafty with a quick left-handed jump-shot. I even thought the scar on his lip was cool. I knew then that I’d found my team.

A fan of that team that beat you up with it’s toughness and attitude.

A fan of the coach that took kids with questionable pasts and gave them second chances.

I became a Cincinnati Bearcat. I embraced it.

I saw a Final Four (although I was a little too naive and young to fully appreciate it) and an Elite-8 in my first two seasons as a fan. Spoiled be thy name.

I watched Bob Huggins build a bad ass brand of basketball and it was great. Strutting around school with my C-Paw and watching all my friends with their cream and crimson cower was empowering.

“Thugs,” they said.

“Vegas East,” they said.

Scared, I knew.

I was a freshman when Steve Logan was carving the hearts out of all that opposed. I used to sneak into practices only to be escorted out moments later by the student managers. One time I snuck in with a local high school team and sat with them to watch practice. I was in heaven. Then, after about 20 minutes of listening to Huggy Bear verbally destroy Rod Flowers, the teams coach made them all exit the practice, leaving me alone. Huggins began walking toward me and I’ll admit, I was petrified. Instead of making me a shell of the man-boy I was, he simply handed me a schedule and said, “You might as well know what the hell is going on because these guys don’t.”

And in my honest opinion, as much as I love the guy—still do—he gets a pass for all his early tourney exits. Exits when we were ranked in the top-10 for much of the year and 1-3 seed. He gets a pass because of that Final Four. Why? Did we all get so spoiled by that run in ’92 and ’93 that we decided to forgive him for every tourney failure from there on out? Yes he hit another Elite-8 in ’96, but after that…crickets. (There was the Xavier like Sweet 16 run in ’01).

If Huggins gets a pass—speaking to those of you quick to throw out the past—then why hate on Mick for sustained success?

I’ll answer simply: He doesn’t have the March run. That’s it. That’s all the ammo you’ve got.

Quit holding the grudge and start believing in the Cincinnati Bearcats again.

I’m not telling you this because I’m better than you. I tell you this because I am one of you. I tell you this because I, like you, have never stopped loving UC. Not once. There have been amazing high’s and pretty catastrophic lows. None worse than losing. I mean really losing. Rock bottom. When I was a sophomore we went 17-12 and I thought that was going to be the worst I ever saw.

Wrong I was.

11-19.

13-19.

Sitting around on selection Sunday for five years and not hearing the name I’d grown so accustomed to hearing. Having to endure that kind of exclusion sucks. Plain and simple. Apathy became a good friend of mine.

If you haven’t experienced being left out—god love you.

You do not want to be a have-not.

I’d never experienced that before and it was humbling.

I thought the team I loved had been dealt a blow they couldn’t recover from. The toughness had been burned up. In its wake, only ashes.

***

Fast forward to 9 straight NCAA tourney appearances.

Pretty remarkable when you look at where we came from in 2006. And although we all desire to advance—lord knows it kills me when we lose to the Creighton’s and Harvard’s and (gulp) Nevada’s of the world—I fully believe our time will come.

And I completely believe that Mick Cronin will be the one to lead us there. Like his predecessor, he’s built a brand of basketball on the mountain of toughness, defense, and physicality. We know that movie. We used to watch every winter for 16 seasons. So I ask, why is it so hard for you to watch now?

Cronin’s not perfect. Lord knows that I sometimes catch myself having animated conversations with the tv during a game. But we aren’t perfect either. He will learn and adapt as his career continues. Trust me. As a teacher, I know that the way I taught last year’s group of 6th graders probably won’t all work with the next years. I understand that and use my failures to learn and become better—not perfect.

Too often in today’s world we want instantaneous results that benefit us. One might argue that Coach Cronin has had ample time to provide that run, but step back a minute. Gone are the days where the landscape of college basketball was an even court. When UC was in Conference USA, the program was viewed on the same level as a North Carolina. Those days are extinct and it’s not because of the coach or the players. Enter the shtick of the Power5. Enter the uber emphasis on AAU teams and their podiatric sponsors.

What we have is good. Hell, some people would argue it’s great. How many teams long to play in March? Think about that. Now realize we have that. How spoiled have we become that we can complain that we were bounced in the first round, or the second? A lot of fans don’t even get that right.

Look, I’m not advocating for complacency by any means. But to constantly read all the nonsense about Coach Cronin needing to be fired or leave is asinine. He is one of us—more so if I’m being honest. A Cincinnati guy with Cincinnati roots that run from the west side right into the heart of Clifton. This is the same man that brought us Sean Kilpatrick. Troy Caupain. Cincinnati’s favorite prodigal son Gary Clark. Jarron Cumberland. A brand new 5/3 Arena. Consistent 20-win seasons. Top 25 rankings. Reliable dancing shoes. Consider what he’s already accomplished and how’s he done it.

 And he’s not finished. Believe that. Put all your energy and passion into truly and whole-heartedly believing it.

Or don’t.

But if you don’t believe it then please just stop your negativity. Save it for an “I told you so” moment that may or may not come.

In other words, stop speaking for me.

            I’ve been a Bearcat for 26 years—some of you much longer–and I haven’t quit once. Not when times were pretty damn dark and I could grab a fistful of gravel from rock bottom. Not on the players, not on coach, and not on the program. I win with them, and as much as it hurts like hell, I lose with them. I appreciate and support the program that Mick has continued to build.

You should try it too.

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