The coach, his princess and his city

Mick Cronin

CINCINNATI -- Preparations for UCF must wait while Mick Cronin's 7-year-old princess twirls around the suite on the University of Cincinnati's campus.

It's President's Day, so Cronin's daughter, Sammi, joins her daddy at work and converts his office into her personal playground.

There's a half-eaten Chick-fil-A sandwich and a collection of fries on the table. An episode of "SpongeBob Squarepants" airs on the flat-screen TV attached to the wall. Sammi's "My Little Pony" backpack rests at an awkward angle on the couch, obviously tossed there by a carefree first-grader.

She's draped in glittery black pants and multicolored bracelets. Her bouncy, brown curls -- "I did that," the redheaded Cronin says about his daughter's hairstyle -- complements her piercing smile.

"Bye-bye," she tells the smitten gawkers as she walks down the hallway.

In recent years, Cronin has attracted lucrative offers to leave Cincinnati. One school promised to make it rain on his life with a sum so ridiculous that he thought it was a joke. Another program had the gift of a multimillion-dollar TV deal, additional BCS money from a conference revenue-sharing deal and more national exposure than the Bearcats currently enjoy playing in the American Athletic Conference.

But the Rick Pitino and Bob Huggins disciple continues to say no -- a simple word with a layered explanation.

Cronin isn't just the Bearcats' coach. He's Cincinnati's coach.

He was born here. His father, Harold "Hep" Cronin, is a legend on the high school circuit here. He earned his mettle in pickup games at rec centers and prep courts around town before a knee injury ended his playing career here. He graduated from college here. He just bought a "big-time crib" here. He treks through the snow in his black UGG boots here. His mysterious suit guy -- he won't name him -- is here. His father comes to practices here. His sister sits behind the bench on game days here.

And, above all, Sammi is here.

The offers could come again. Cincy entered the season as a sleeper in the American but could end the year as its champion. Sean Kilpatrick is one of the best players in the country. The Bearcats harass teams with a defensive furor that few can equal.

But Cronin's connection to the program, the city and a lively little girl nurtures the unique bond between the team, the coach and the community that surrounds them.

Leave Cincy? He's too busy building it.

'That's never going to be me' 

The day Cronin's ex-wife, Darlene, left their former home in January 2008 with his little girl in tow, he nearly crumbled.

His world was changing. And he wasn't sure how his relationship with Sammi would evolve given the new terms of their interaction. He and his ex-wife had agreed to joint custody, so he understood that he'd see Sammi. But he also realized it would never be enough time.

"Sammi was sitting there playing with the little blocks," Cronin's sister, Kelly, said. "He looked at me and said, 'I can't believe I'm not going to see her every day.' He had to walk out of the room because he was getting choked up and he didn't want to cry in front of her."

The circumstances of the split, however, taught Cronin to value every second he now has with Sammi.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
  • |
  • 4
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...