After missing most of last season due to medical reasons, Mick Cronin is back on bench at Cincinnati, and not taking anything for granted. (Photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Enquirer)
Far too often, we take for granted the population of the sports world. Although the players and coaches of each team, professional or collegiate, are often regarded as mythical immortals, they are no different from the delivery guy at your local pizzeria, or the receptionist in your office. Sports figures, while more revered, are human too.
And sometimes, it takes a haunting reality check to realize that. Take Mick Cronin as an example.
Cronin, now in his tenth season as the head men's basketball coach at the University of Cincinnati, missed the bulk of last season after doctors discovered he suffered from arterial dissection, a non-threatening vascular condition, after he complained of recurring headaches in December. Associate head coach Larry Davis filled in admirably through the remainder of the year, but Cronin was given a clean bill of health during the offseason to return to the sidelines at his alma mater.
"The whole thing has been crazy," the 44-year-old Cronin intimated on Friday after his Bearcats improved to 6-0 on the season following a victory over Nebraska in the semifinals of the Barclays Center Classic in Brooklyn. "If we'd have beaten Kentucky, (in the NCAA Tournament last March) I probably would have coached the next game. The whole thing was like the twilight zone."
"I'm just fortunate," he added. "I tell everybody to be thankful for your health, because it's not promised. Most people, they say 'yeah, yeah,' and then move on about their day, but people that have gone through it, or have had a family member go through any type of thing, they understand what I'm talking about."
Cronin is not the only coach in recent years to be forced away from the game due to medical circumstances, with Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano taking the majority of the 2012 season off to treat leukemia, and Steve Lavin spending most of 2011-12 away from St. John's after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer. Regardless, he knows just how blessed he is, and reinforced that belief as the holiday season is now upon us.
"We don't really observe holidays in college coaching," Cronin quipped, "but I think for me, I probably have that mentality now all the time, being thankful. I'm probably now a lot more cognizant of other people when I see other people go through things. I have much more empathy when I see that type of stuff. You notice everything now because it's something that happened, you went through something and you see other people go through it."
The grinding nature of the college basketball season, which turns into a year-round vocation when recruiting is taken into concern, only makes it harder on coaches physically. Nebraska head coach Tim Miles referenced that after facing Cronin and Cincinnati, and made it a point to cite how important having his counterpart back in the game is for not just basketball, but from a life standpoint.
"With the grind these players and coaches go through," Miles said, recounting that it was against his Nebraska team in which Cronin first experienced his medical symptoms, "I think people take for granted our health and welfare. But it was great to see him out there, because we want him healthy. He's good for the game."
"I don't take anything for granted," Cronin reaffirmed. "I really appreciate just being able to coach and having my health, but I also know that it's not promised tomorrow."