The coach, his princess and his city

Even though he grew up nearby, Cronin's journey toward this fairy tale was anything but. Cronin wanted to play, not coach.

But he had to get his fix somehow after knee injuries ended his career. His father helped him get a job as the freshman coach at Woodward High School while Cronin was still a freshman at Cincinnati. He treated the gig as though he was leading North Carolina or Kansas. He'd take trips to basketball camps in his old Cadillac. He'd work on his practice plans in the middle of his business classes.

He was hooked.

It would all lead somewhere, he thought. His mother, who wrote a song about her doubts, wasn't initially convinced.

"She called it the 'J.O.B.' song," Kelly Cronin said. "'You got to get a J.O.B. if you want to live with me.' ... They would be laughing over all the verses she had invented while harassing him, because he kept telling her he had a plan, and she kept telling him coaching freshman basketball and running around to camps with players was not a plan."

Equipped with the knowledge about the game he'd gleaned from his father, however, Cronin climbed at an uncanny pace. He was still in his mid-20s when Huggins hired him to be Cincinnati's video coordinator before he became a full-time assistant for the program in the late 1990s.

"When he was with me, he did a great job with film and studying the game and trying to learn and make himself better," Huggins said.

Cronin joined Pitino's staff in 2001. Two years later, he was the head coach at Murray State. By 2006, he'd been hired to lead to his alma mater and hometown squad after Huggins resigned.

This is the fifth season that Cronin has won 19 or more games at Cincinnati. The Bearcats have reached the NCAA tournament in three consecutive seasons. That success has intrigued other programs in recent years.

But Cronin clearly has every reason to stay.

He'll never say never, though. He's no fool.

He wants a salary for both him and his assistants that matches some of the nation's other Top 25 programs. He'd have left already if money -- "I'm making more money than I ever thought I'd make, anyway" -- mattered that much. It doesn't. Winning does, though.

Cronin worked under legends in his 20s and 30s. And he wants to build a perennial powerhouse, too.

A new or renovated facility would help. Fifth Third Arena's average attendance of 9,253 (capacity 13,176) was 48th nationally last year. Cronin is not convinced that upgrading his team's nonconference schedule is the sole ticket to drawing more fans each night.

"The problem is only three or four [thousand] of them have good seats," Cronin said. "The rest of them have bad seats. Everybody involved here knows we've gotta upgrade somehow. How is the issue."

The fan experience in a region that features the Bengals, Reds and an assortment of Division I football and basketball programs is significant. That's why officials at the university have already commenced conversations about the matter.

"[We] recognize that the basketball enterprise is extremely important to us, and we want to find a way to continue to escalate the commitment and the resources and the facilities that our coaches and student-athletes and fans can enjoy for the long term," said Mike Bohn, the school's new athletic director.

Cronin can't control that conversation. He can only highlight his desires and continue to win, something the Bearcats didn't do against Louisville last weekend.

The Bearcats lost a crucial home game on a last-second shot by Russ Smith on Saturday.

On Sunday, Cronin's father called to check on him. It's one thing to lose a tough one on the road, another to come so close to victory in a sellout at home.

But Cronin was busy tobogganing with Sammi, not dwelling on the loss to Louisville.

"I think that's good for him, instead of sitting there and sulking about it," Hep Cronin said. "You gotta move on."

But sometimes, Cronin has learned, you gotta stay. 

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