Tuesday, March 23, 2010

An Open Letter to Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas:

I have been a Cincinnati Bearcat my entire life. I grew up wearing Red and Black and attending as many Bearcat football and basketball games as possible. My father earned his PHD from the University of Cincinnati, taught night classes in Sociology and worked as an administrator in the College of Business. I started attending games with him at the age of 3, but really started remembering the games at 5.

Throughout my years as a Bearcat fan I was able to watch the Bearcats reel of 14 straight NCAA tournament bids. I got to see them win Conference title after Conference title. I was able to watch them make 1 final four, 3 elite eights and 4 sweet sixteens. During those years the University only accepted excellence. Mediocrity would simply not be tolerated... It was a standard I grew to appreciate from a University that clearly cared about its basketball program.

In the fall of 2005 the University fired the man largely responsible for the great success of the University of Cincinnati Bearcat basketball program. It was that success that was a huge component in getting UC into the Big East which has greatly benefited this University. It was a decision at the time I vehemently disagreed with, but one in which the administration clearly has a right to make.

Still there was a responsibility for the administration to show they were fully committed to the basketball program... that this decision was not going to mean basketball would be left to wallow in mediocrity. When you were brought in as athletic director you gave us an ambitious goal...one that we could be proud to be shooting for, to win a conference title in every sport within 5 years. In the spring of 2006 you hired Mick Cronin to hopefully continue the Bearcat basketball program's tradition of success. Cronin was an impressive young coach, whom Bearcat fans were very familiar with. He had been a top assistant for two big time coaches in Huggins and Pitino. He did not have much experience as a head coach, but in his brief time at Murray State he was successful (though to be fair that team has won 14 regular season OVC titles and been to 12 NCAA tournaments in the last 23 years under 6 different coaches... everyone wins at Murray State).

We all understood that results from Mick Cronin would not come immediately. The program only returned 2 scholarship players in 2006. Bearcat fans fully understood that this would be a painful season. In 2007 we hoped for better, but really were not expecting any excellence. Still with their win over South Florida on February 20 the Bearcats got their record to over .500 and were 8-5 in the Big East. All of a sudden the NIT was a real possibility and some of us were even dreaming of a crazy run to the NCAA tournament. In the end the Bearcats would lose their last 7 games ending the season on an awful note.

The hope was that year three would be different, that year three would be the season the Bearcats were right on the edge of being an NCAA tournament team. Once again their came a point when that was a real possibility. With their road win at Georgetown on February 7 the Bearcats were 16-8 and 7-5 in Big East play. They were 3 or 4 wins from an NCAA tournament birth. Everything was looking up for the Bearcat program. Then for a second straight year the Bearcats absolutely faded down the stretch. They went 1-6 their last 7 games, including losses to South Florida, Seton Hall and then the ultimate embarrassment losing to previously winless Depaul in the conference tournament. For a second straight season a year that had shown so much promise turned into abject failure when it mattered most and the Bearcats were not even playing in the NIT.

Starting year four the pieces were in place. The Bearcats brought back a four year starter at shooting guard who was poised to become one of the top scorers in Bearcat history. They returned one of the most talented big men in the country in Yancy Gates. They had one of the the top freshman in the country coming in to contribute and were finally going to get true point guard play from Cashmere Wright and Jaquan Parker. The Bearcats showed their talent early in season down in Maui when they beat what would end up being two 4 seeds in the NCAA tournament in Maryland and Vanderbilt. Now given the lack of practices before the NCAA season starts early in the season talent tends to win out because teams have not had the opportunity to get their identity in place. Our talent this season was evident from day 1.

This team should have been an NCAA tournament team. Not only should they have been an NCAA tournament team, but they should have been a higher seed in the NCAA a tournament. The talent was there, but throughout the season the Bearcats never established an identity, never developed a regular lineup with regular substitution patterns, never developed an offense that played to their strengths and did not show consistent effort. All of those factors led to a team that woefully underachieved...a team that had two high profile non-conference wins early and then did nothing to build no those the rest of the way (and they were given a ton of chances to do so).

The last three seasons the Bearcats have finished 10th, 10th and now 11th in the Big East Conference. The last three seasons the Bearcats have gone 8-10, 8-10 and now 7-11 in the Big East Conference. I am trying to figure out where the development is. Where is the improvement? This season the Bearcats blew several games by simple lack of execution; Inability to execute in bounds plays late in games, inability to execute offensive sets out of timeouts. They lost other games because their offense was content to launch threes instead of get their better players the ball in places where they can score. These are issues that do not exist on that level with a competent coach. Last night against Dayton was a great example of the Bearcats simply getting outworked by an A10 team that went .500 in their conference.

My point is it is clear right here and right now that Mick Cronin is not the answer for the University of Cincinnati basketball program (unless the question is how can we avoid making the NCAA tournament for as long as possible?). He has certainly improved the talent level immensely here at UC, but he has not shown an ability to develop that talent and win with that talent. Deonta Vaughn was the same player last night that he was when he stepped foot on the court four years ago. Yancy Gates continues to be passive and not demand the ball. Lance Stephenson should have been used a variety of different ways, not just for getting the ball on the perimeter and breaking down the defense off the drive. Mick has not shown at all that he can get the most out of his players.

Should Cronin continue to be the Bearcat basketball coach it will be very hard for me to believe the University is as committed to winning as they tried to convince us when they hired Cronin 4 years ago. I've watched nearly every game the last 4 seasons and I am trying to find the evidence of his ability to win at a high level. If you think it is there... share it with the fan base. Let us know the reason you believe, despite all the evidence...despite three straight years of finishing basically in the exact same spot (10, 10 and 11) in the Big East... despite going 5-11 against tournament teams this year (and 3-10 after Maui) that I should feel hope for the future. If you are 100% convinced that Mick is the answer than by all means stay with him.

If you are not, the time to change is now. We only lose two players off the roster (Vaughn and Toyloy). The Bearcats bring back Gates and Stephenson who are two of the most talented big men in the country. They return Parker and Wright who both showed flashes of being very good guards. They bring back Ibrihim Thomas who showed himself to be a more than capable big man. This is the kind of core that an up and coming coach would jump at a chance to move forward . It is the type of core that could attract a winning type of candidate.

Additional now is the ideal time for chance because the program will not be set back by the coaching change. Were we to make the change in a year where we had to replace a ton of talent we may be set back another year...another two years. This is a year we could make the kind of change and not have the setback. Our recruiting class this year is nothing incredibly impressive and the guys we are losing can be replaced. This year is as ideal a chance as we may ever get to bring someone in who can get this program to the next level.

I am thankful to Mick for coming in and giving his best effort to get the program off the mat. I am thankful for his increasing the talent level and at least getting us back to mediocrity. But after three straight seasons of mediocrity in the Big East and a lack of development of what is a clearly talented team, I think the evidence is in. The University cannot afford to wallow in mediocrity. This is a program that regularly drew 12,000+ a game for 15 years that is now failing to draw 9000 (despite playing in a much better conference). This is a program that is losing opportunities for exposure. There are still recruits who grew up watching UC as a successful program that they would want to be a part of, but that window is closing by the day. The longer we wait...the longer we sit in mediocrity, the harder it will be to win at the high level this University deserves.

For the sake of the University I grew up loving, for the sake of the University where I earned my degree and for the sake of all the alumni who care about this university it is time to make a change. It is time make the bold statement that the University of Cincinnati will not accept mediocrity... we are a big time program and we are once again ready to live up to that.

Thanks for your time,

Mark Raines, Class of 2007

1 comment:

Bourgeois_Rage said...

Nice letter, Mark. I'd be interested in hearing any response that you get.