And on the 100th day, UCLA found its new basketball coach.
Cronin agreed to a six-year, $24-million contract that will nearly double his previous $2.2-million annual salary with the Bearcats. He is scheduled to be introduced late Wednesday morning during a news conference at Pauley Pavilion.
Cronin could be considered UCLA’s Plan C after a messy sequence of events prevented the school from hiring Texas Christian’s Jamie Dixon or Tennessee’s Rick Barnes. The Bruins failed to reach a deal with Dixon because of his $8-million buyout and couldn’t come to terms with Barnes after a series of intense negotiations resulted in the veteran coach remaining in Knoxville.
“Throughout what was a thorough and exhaustive search, those of us on the committee repeatedly discussed and emphasized the importance of bringing in a coach who really wants to be here,” Golden State Warriors general manager and UCLA alumnus Bob Myers said in a statement. “As a former player who knows firsthand how special it is to wear the four letters — UCLA — I am excited that we got a coach in Mick who wants to be a part of this historic program.”
Cronin, 47, will take over a program seeking a return to national relevancy. The Bruins have not been to a Final Four in more than a decade or won a national championship in nearly a quarter of a century.
“I am incredibly humbled and honored to become the head coach at UCLA,” Cronin said in a statement. “I’m especially grateful to Chancellor [Gene] Block and to [athletic director] Dan Guerrero for this opportunity to join the Bruin Family. UCLA is a very special place with a strong tradition of excellence. To be able to join such a world-class institution is truly a privilege, and I can’t wait to get started in Westwood.”
Cronin replaces Steve Alford, who was fired in December after five-plus seasons that yielded only sporadic success and included a dramatic drop-off over the last two seasons. The team had a 7-6 record, including home losses to Belmont and Liberty, at the time of Alford’s dismissal. Murry Bartow took over as interim coach for the Bruins, who finished 17-16 and seventh in the Pac-12 Conference.
In some ways, Cronin is the anti-Alford.
His teams are strong defensively and consistent winners; the Bearcats have made nine consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament during his 13 seasons at Cincinnati, advancing to a regional semifinal in 2012. The only other college coaches to take their teams to the NCAA tournament over each of the last nine years are North Carolina’s Roy Williams, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Kansas’ Bill Self and Gonzaga’s Mark Few. Cronin’s 365-171 overall record includes three previous seasons at Murray State and gives him the most victories among active Division I coaches under 50.
Cronin emerged as a leading candidate for the UCLA job after his teams had beaten the Bruins in two of the last three seasons, including a 29-point thrashing in December. The Bearcats finished this season with a 28-7 record, winning a second consecutive American Athletic Conference tournament championship before losing to Iowa in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“Mick has built a fantastic program at Cincinnati, backed by integrity and discipline, and he has instilled an undeniable toughness in his student-athletes," Guerrero said in a statement. "I am confident he will build this program the right way and lead UCLA basketball back to national prominence.”
Cronin was forced to miss the final 25 games of the 2014-15 season while recovering from an unruptured aneurysm that was discovered after he complained of lingering headaches. He was given a clean bill of health afterward and returned to his full coaching duties before the following season.
Cronin’s teams at his alma mater have routinely been among the most efficient in the nation defensively, falling outside the top 20 in basketball analyst Ken Pomeroy’s rankings only twice in the last nine years. The Bearcats have also ranked among the top 50 teams in offensive efficiency over each of the last three seasons even while featuring one of the slowest tempos in the college game.
Cronin will inherit a UCLA roster that may bear a strong resemblance to the one from last season, when the Bruins did not advance to the postseason for the fourth time in the last decade. Sophomores Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands recently announced their intentions to hire an agent and declare for the NBA draft in the first of a possible handful of departures.
But the Bruins are expected to bring back a strong core of players supplemented by the return of point guard Tyger Campbell (torn knee ligament) and power forward Shareef O’Neal (heart surgery) and the arrival of freshmen Jaime Jaquez and Jake Kyman, who could provide much-needed long-range shooting. UCLA also remains in the running for Cassius Stanley, a highly touted shooting guard from Chatsworth Sierra Canyon High.
A native of Cincinnati who apprenticed as an assistant under Bearcats coach Bob Huggins for five seasons and under Louisville coach Rick Pitino for two seasons, Cronin has spent almost his entire life in the Midwest. He does not have any clear ties to the West Coast.
Cronin possesses a wry sense of humor but also has a reputation as a bit hot-tempered. He had to be ushered away from Xavier guard J.P. Macura by staffers and a game official in December 2017 to avoid a possible confrontation with the player after a game between the Bearcats and the Musketeers. Cronin later said that Macura had uttered an expletive at him three times during and after the game.
The coach reportedly had been in discussions with Cincinnati about a contract extension before coming to UCLA. His contract included a $2.2-million buyout, according to USA Today’s coaching salary database, though it was not immediately clear how the terms of that buyout were satisfied.
While reaction to the hiring was mixed among fans on message boards, several Bruins alumni welcomed Cronin’s arrival on social media.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch