Maybe. Mick Cronin has repeatedly stated that he has no intentions to leave. That if he was offered a lifetime contract at the University of Cincinnati he would sign it in a heartbeat. Now Bearcats know better than most that a coaches words are wind, but its more than words with Cronin.
Mick has deep and abiding roots in the queen city. He has spent most of his personal and professional life based within 5 hours of Cincinnati. His family is here, his daughter is here, and his school is here. Most coaches are nomad's by design, but not Mick. I do believe that Cincinnati is the place that he wants to be. The question for Mike Bohn and Santa Ono is how to ensure that his eyes don't wander.
Talks for an extension have been in the works for months, but no deal has yet been signed. Speculation for the hold up has been rampant. I have no inside information, but I don't think its a coincidence that talk of an arena solution has peaked as the two sides have reached an impasse on the contract.
Its not hard to see where Mick is coming from. The relatively nouveau riche football program is getting a glittering, glistening palace of an addition being made on a sight that is hard to miss for anyone who works in the Lindner Center. Meanwhile the Basketball program continues to make due with a facility that was inadequate long before his return to Cincinnati. His personal salary is near the top of the charts nationally, but there is more to fielding a perennially successful basketball program than paying the head coach a boat load of money. Its about money to be sure, but its about money for a bigger recruiting budget, higher pay for his assistants.* I have no knowledge of this because I don't know Mick, and he certainly has no idea who I am. But it has to bother him to some extent that football has superseded basketball at the University of Cincinnati. Its not like it is one president or one AD has gotten it to this point. Football has been the priority over successive administrations, at both the presidential and AD level. Mick was here for peak era Huggins, and that change can't have gone unnoticed.
*That should just happen, Darren Savino has been a hot name for a couple of years and Larry Davis is getting to that point as well. Increasing their pay won't keep them from taking a head coaching opportunity, but they have earned it
Fifth Third Arena is not yet to the point where Nippert Stadium was circa 1985 where a prospect could visit campus and the coaches would do their damndest to make sure the prospect never even saw the stadium or the locker rooms. But its closer to being that than it is to being the crown jewel of the visit. I think everyone can agree that its days are numbered as currently configured. Something has to be done about the basketball venue, that much everyone can agree upon. What exactly to do is the biggest question.
Do they renovate Fifth Third Arena into a space that is viable for the long term? Do they move to US Bank Arena? Do they scrap it all and build a new gym in a yet to be determined place? If money was no obstacle they would start from scratch with a new venue. Alas money is a huge obstacle. As mentioned on Monday the reason Nippert was placed before Fifth Third in the queue is that the returns from Nippert will be higher in the long run than they would be at Fifth Third.
It is rumored that Mick favors a downtown arena, an essentially brand new US Bank through renovation. But that seems less likely as I type than it did a month ago. President Ono has put renovating Fifth Third Arena at the top of the list for the university's next wave of projects for fundraising. That could be a general goal that has been in his mind for a while, or it could be the only possible card he has left to play to keep Mick happy. Either seems possible.
In the end this comes down to Mick's desire to compete at the highest level. He has rebuilt the program from the ashes and has gotten the Bearcats back to being annual NCAA tournament participants. This graduating senior class has never not played in the NCAA tournament. He wants to take the next step and get the Bearcats back to being threats for the national championship on a consistent basis. For that to happen the infrastructure has to improve significantly. All of the talk from the UC leadership, be it Mike Bohn (who actually never seems to talk to anyone) or Santa Ono has been of support for Mick . Words are wind, and Mick has listened to a lot of wind from a lot of AD's and presidents in his eight years in Clifton. It would be somewhat understandable if his faith was flagging at this point, which brings us to Tennessee.
There can be little doubt that the Vols have the ability to give Mick what he needs. The Vols made over 100 million dollars in revenue during the last reporting period. They have a 21,000 seat arena with roughly double the amount of suites that Fifth Third Arena has. They play in the SEC, the richest conference in the country by a mile. They have the money to make a godfather offer to Mick.
But if his biggest complaint is that basketball at UC has become a second class citizen why go within a hundred miles of Tennessee? The Vols have the ability (read: money) to run their program as if they were among the upper echelon, they simply haven't shown any interest in doing so. For what it's worth informed speculation does not have Mick among the names to watch. Not yet. Nonetheless his name is a certainty to be floating around until the job is filled. That works well for Mick if he wants to leverage this into a more favorable contract situation as he did with N.C. State. Remember its not about his salary, its about giving him the infrastructure he needs to compete at the highest level.