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Mick Cronin Leaves for UCLA. Now What?

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Cronin guided the Bearcats through an era of prosperity but with his departure for UCLA, the program is in flux.

NCAA Basketball: Central Florida at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Entering this offseason, the Cincinnati Bearcats knew they would be losing two major contributors in Cane Broome and Justin Jenifer. Their was also the possibility that they might lose American Athletic Conference Player of the Year Jarron Cumberland if he decided to enter the NBA Draft (which could still happen). What might have been a bit more surprising is that they would say goodbye to head coach Mick Cronin.

Cronin, who was in talks to leave UC for UNLV three years ago, decided to take on the head coaching gig for the UCLA Bruins, with the announcement made official on Tuesday. It is quite the blow for a program that has had its fair share of success the last decade but has also left its fans wanting.

Under Cronin’s tutelage, the Bearcats created one of the most easily identifiable styles in college basketball, with their defensive dominance and grueling offensive displays what every opponent came to expect. The Bearcats also became synonymous with winning, claiming their second-straight American Athletic Conference Tournament title and earning their ninth-straight NCAA Tournament bid just this year. They won 296 games overall in the Cronin era, which isn’t too bad for a guy who led the program to just an 11-19 mark in his first season.

That’s all over now. The Bruins, whom the Bearcats defeated by 29 points just days before they fired former head coach Steve Alford in December, must have appreciated what they saw from Cronin. Bearcat fans should as well. He leaves UC with the second-most wins in program history and even if he has been knocked for failing to guide his team further in March, the fact that they were nearly always present in the Big Dance is quite an accomplishment.

But now its time to move on. The coaching carousel will be making a stop in the Queen City in the very near future and what that could mean for the Bearcats is both exciting and frightening. Could a change of leadership be the final push the program needs to get out of its first weekend purgatory in the NCAA Tournament? Could an entirely new philosophy take hold and what would that mean for players on the current roster who have been molded in Cronin’s very specific style? Could this affect Cumberland’s decision about his future? Will a coaching change lead to steps back for the program? Who will that new coach be?

These are all questions we will have answered in the next few months and more will surface before then. The most pressing inquiry is where will the Bearcats go from here? Right now, all we can tell is that it will be an entirely new direction.