In the beginning it was obsession, unrestrained, unapologetic, unvarnished. Paul Cronin was 28. As a kid he had inhaled sports and competition as if it were oxygen itself. But now, at 28, he was breathing as he never had before. He was taking over the Cardinal Newman head coaching job. No wonder he was breathing heavy. The air was thin up there.
“Gotta win 47 in a row. Gotta win championships,” Cronin remembered thinking to himself. He was following The Best Who Ever Was Around Here, Ed Lloyd, and those Newman teams, those Jerry Robinson teams, those magical teams sent people to poetry. Now he was that little kid placed in the driver’s seat of an 18-wheeler. Don’t crash the truck, kid.
“Veteran coaches would come up to me and give advice,” Cronin remembered. “They’d tell me, ‘Winning is not the only thing. There’s more to it’. I couldn’t understand. I didn’t understand. It was football every second of the day.”
That was then. This is now: For the first time since he’s been at Newman, Cronin will email a video clip each week to his kids and their parents. This week it’s Virtue Week. Each clip will contain a message. And it’s not the next game plan. Might think of it as the next life plan, a message to human beings who happen to be football players and parents of the same.
And, yes, the irony is not lost on Cronin, 43, when he made the following statement: “Some people think it (high school football) is life or death. That’s unfortunate. For me, and I know this may sound weird, the best times for me happen off the field.”
Huh? Let’s pause over that comment for a moment. Cronin begins his 15th season tonight when the Cardinals host Fortuna. He has a 154-36-2 record at the school. He’s won three NCS titles, eight NBL titles and played in two state championship games. Thirty-five of his players have gone on to play college football. Cronin is, without dispute, The Best Around Here. And if he keeps this up for another 15 years, Ed Lloyd is going to have to share the podium.
For this man to say what he said, with all the success he’s had, for someone who can blow hellfire over an official’s bad call, the best times for him have to be on the field. An 80.2 winning percentage shades all, covers all, is the beginning of any conversation.
Except it isn’t.
“Thank God I married Tracey,” said Cronin of his most significant other. “Can you imagine if I married someone like myself? Tracey is normal.”
This is how normal, grounded and different Tracey is from her husband.
“You’re not going to do this (sports obsession) to our kids,” wife said to husband.
Her words, coupled with his success and getting older, were the cool breeze he needed to blow on his fire. To be fair, Cronin is not falling asleep in his rocking chair. On an average, and by his accounting, Cronin puts in about 43 hours a week on practice, game film, coach huddles, game preparation and game execution. No one outworks Cronin. This week, for example, he went play-by-play over last year’s game film with Fortuna as well as play-by-play with Fortuna scrimmages earlier this summer with other teams.