Mick Cronin's UC extension well deserved

On Wednesday afternoon, the Associated Press reported that Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin's contract was, pending university trustee approval in June, set to receive a nice little boost:

Coach Mick Cronin has agreed to a contract extension with Cincinnati that would add at least one year to his deal and run through the 2017-18 season. Cronin, who enters his eighth season, could have another one or two years added to the deal if the Bearcats make the NCAA tournament in either of the next two seasons. The reworked deal gives him more compensation for his team's academic accomplishments and NCAA tournament appearances.

It is a modest extension, another year or two on an incentivized basis, hardly worthy of major announcement or fanfare. It's the kind of extension we sort of tend to take for granted. It's a hearty pat on the back. But the fact that we could be so nonplussed actually says a lot about the job Cronin has done. The Bearcats are steadily, unspectacularly good. They finish top half in the Big East. They go to the NCAA tournament. We casually expect this. It feels ... normal.

That boring-in-the-best-way quality could pretty easily obscure the miniature existential crisis the program went through when Cronin was hired in 2006. UC president Nancy Zimpher had essentially fired consistently successful, well-entrenched 16-year veteran Bob Huggins in a rather messy public battle. In 2006, Huggins was told to resign and take a $3 million buyout or be reassigned. His issues with Zimpher began in 2004 when he was arrested for driving under the influence on the same morning as Coretta Scott King's commencement address at the school. Bearcats fans at the time openly acknowledged Huggins' apathetic approach to the student half of "student-athlete" and didn't much care; Zimpher was determined to beef up Cincinnati's academic reputation.

It was an ugly institutional divorce, a school severing ties with its rebellious but lovable bad boy, and Cronin's challenges at the outset were immense. He had to follow a mostly well-liked and successful coach. He had to overcome a dearth of players. And he had to do it all in a community that had just had a very loud and contentious conversation about the whole point of college basketball in the first place. The Bearcats finished 2-14 in his first year.

Progress -- a couple of 8-10 Big East seasons, then a 19-16 NIT campaign -- came relatively quickly after that. Cincinnati has gone to the NCAA tournament each of the past three seasons (including the Sweet 16 in 2012), and there's little reason to expect much different in 2013-14. Cincinnati won't be a title contender, but it will be solid, which is why it's so easy to forget how much the ground shifted less than a decade ago. I'd say that's worth tacking a year or two on the contract, yes?