Cronin greets state coaching award with modesty


It’s Tuesday afternoon, a full three days after Cardinal Newman’s Paul Cronin was told he was named California’s Medium School Football Coach of the Year in 2010 by ESPN RISE Cal-Hi. It’s quite an honor, considering Cronin is only the fifth coach from the Empire to receive such an honor in the 60 years the award has been presented.

For Cardinal Newman football coach Paul Cronin, coaching high school athletes is its own reward. Photo by Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat

So, of course, when someone is judged to have been the best in a state as large as California, that someone would need no prompting, nor would that someone be judged unfairly, if he were to spread the word. We all have egos and it would be permitted and entirely proper if Cronin was to show a little of that. Even justifiable, you might say.

As of Tuesday afternoon, a full three days after he was informed, four people knew of it: Cronin, his wife Tracy, the guy writing this column and Newman defensive coordinator Matt Dimeola, who happened by the school’s film room when Cronin was being interviewed by the guy writing this column.

“So, you are not going to put the news on Facebook?” I asked.
Cronin reacted as if I had just stuck a mold-growing pickle under his nose.
Cronin doesn’t do Facebook, by the way.

It was right then I understood more clearly than ever that Paul Cronin, just 36 years old, would not now or ever place himself on the coaching fast-track that leads to fame and fortune at a D1 university and eventually the NFL.

If he were, Cronin would have spread the news like butter on toast, covering everything, making sure the news trickled upstream to the Pac-10 and places beyond. Cronin, after all, has a resume worth a peek — five NCS titles in his eight years at Newman, an 82-20-1 record, that state title game in which the Cardinals scared the hell out of Oaks Christian. And without going into details, Cronin admitted there has been some peeking.

“I think after that 2006 game (Oaks Christian), the one that was televised across the state,” Cronin said, “obviously people will call. We’ve dealt with phone calls. There were some opportunities. I couldn’t give you a ballpark figure (as to the number of inquiries) but you do get calls.”
Cronin would have to be an idiot not to give those inquiries at least a moment’s notice and Cronin is not an idiot. The paycheck upgrade can be alluring.

“There’s the finances, of course,” said Cronin, who loves dollar signs like the rest of us.
Cronin then told a story of a coaching compatriot who went on the fast track; but when it was all said and done, the only retirement benefit that man had when he left coaching was from his time in high schools. He had skipped from college to college so frequently — that’s what you do when you climb the ladder — he never stayed at a place long enough to acquire a pension. The life of a coaching nomad isn’t appealing to Cronin.

However, that hasn’t been the tipping point.
Paul Cronin is a high school football coach. Period. It suits not only his personality, for Cronin has a healthy chunk of shy in his makeup, not the best fit for someone who needs to be a 24-7 salesman to pitch a high-level D1 program along with the glad-handing of influential boosters.
It also suits his ideal view of coaching, which is to teach football, to counsel teenagers, to be a support pole for people in need to lean on. Cronin may be a bit shy but when it comes to taking care of the people around Newman football, he is as accessible as a 24-hour crisis line.

“I think the 16-17-18-year olds are in such a cool time of their lives,” Cronin said. “They are so open, so willing to change, so willing to learn. I never watch pro football. I love high school kids and when Newman plays Montgomery next week in basketball, I’d rather go to watch that game than go and watch the Warriors play the Lakers.”

Cronin would not want to coach players who may or may not listen because they think they are either bigger than the program or make more money than the coach. He wants to coach players, not problems. He would not want his fitness as a coach judged on more than a won-loss record. A dream season for him is the one that just happened: Newman started with a 1-2 record and finished 11-3 to win D3 NCS.

“I’m really proud of my guys and how they handled adversity,” Cronin said. “We lost Game 2 (Valley Christian) and Game 3 (Palma) by lopsided scores. It would have been easy for them to hang their heads, to pout. But they didn’t. They believed in themselves, in what we were doing. They kept at it.”

Cronin spoke of his team like they were his kids, all of them, he the proud papa, they the big family. It was the intimacy of getting close to each other, staying close and there were no distractions to get in the way, like guaranteed contracts or impatient university officials. In fact, Cronin does something at Newman that would never, ever, be tolerated in college or pro football.
Cronin doesn’t make public his players’ statistics.
Imagine tryin to sell that to Monta Ellis.

“It’s nice we got away from that,” he said. “Sometimes statistics become distractions, that it gets in the way of what you are trying to teach. We are a team, not individuals. We are together, not apart.”
Together, Newman was 11-3 in 2010. Cronin, however, gets the credit. One man, one award. That’s not fair, he said. It didn’t take long for Cronin to send that compliment in another direction.

“I don’t think I’ll ever leave high school coaching,” Cronin said. “I’m going to stay at Cardinal Newman for as long as they’ll have me.”
Being a 2010 California Coach the Year should help.
Maybe that’s why I wrote this column. Sorry, Paul, but someone had to tell the folks in Newman’s front office.

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