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.
That said, he said this: “All Jackson wanted to know after the game was where we were getting French fries.” This summer his 9-year old son had just played a football game. His team lost, 18-6. He didn’t care. He wanted fries. Not a game breakdown by the best high school football coach in the Empire.
“My oldest kid (daughter, Haley, 13) can take it or leave it when it comes to sports,” Cronin said. “It’s not the most important thing in the world for her.”
Paul Cronin, at 28, would seek answers to why his kids don’t have the same blood lust for athletics. He found out he is the living breathing example of the adage: If you live the same way as an adult that you did as a teenager, you just wasted 20 years of your life. So when he plays with his kids, when he takes Jackson for his fries, when he lets Haley be her own person, these are the best times in his life.
“Got off the phone the other day with Jordon (Brookshire, a former Newman quarterback at SRJC),” Cronin said. “We just talked. I’m in his life. For me, these are the best times. I want to influence my players beyond football. I want to be in their lives.”
Seven of his former players are on the Newman football staff. That’s seven compliments. Max Pond is the head coach at Branson School in Marin County. Records, plays, game film, they come and go. In fact, I’ll give five bucks to anyone who can recite from memory the Newman game scores from the 2011 season.
“I feel pretty confident that if we go 5-5 this year,” Cronin said, “I won’t be fired. But I would lose my job for being a bad person. And I should.”
Beyond Tracey’s influence and being 14 years on the job, Cronin also has been impacted by what he sees as a heightened increase in parental involvement. And that’s putting it nicely.
“Someone has to go to Texas to play a youth soccer game?” Cronin said. “You mean, there’s no good soccer here?”
Cronin is amused, a tamped down word that masks a stronger opinion, with kids or parents feeling they have to play any sport year-round. A quasi-professional at 10? Not a healthy choice. An excessive reaction to sports produces an excessive reaction from Cronin.
“You send him to Georgia so he can learn to put on his pants and you send him to Milwaukee so he can learn to tie his shoes,” Cronin said. “You don’t have to go to Europe to play T-ball. Look, if you’re athletic enough, they will find you anyway. And if you’re not athletic enough, it won’t matter anyway (of playing a sport year-around).”
This advice is from the most successful high school coach in the Empire. Cronin knows some who read these words may not understand, cannot understand or simply refuse to understand. He gets it. He was there once. And then, with a little help from momma, he opened his eyes and his mind. He saw his son beaming, happy even, after his football team lost. Jackson was eating French fries. French fries!
Once again Jackson reminded his father that HE was on the field, not him. It was his life on display, not his father’s. Those French fries, that was his way of getting over it. Jackson reminding his father he was a kid. And what kind of father, Cronin thought to himself, would I have been to get in the way of that?
To contact Bob Padecky email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.