Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin will remain in that position, he announced Friday, through the school. What is unclear is just how close he came to leaving Cincinnati for UNLV after interviewing for the position — especially since UNLV's athletic director claimed Friday that Cronin reneged on a verbal agreement to become the Runnin' Rebels' next head coach.
"I would like people to try and understand after 10 years of dedicated service I chose to evaluate my career and my life," Cronin said in a university statement issued Friday. "Reflecting through that process was extremely difficult, but it was something I needed to do for me personally."
There's no doubt that part of Cronin's evaluation of his career and life was kicking the tires on UNLV, which fired coach Dave Rice in January and decided not to retain interim head coach Todd Simon, who departed UNLV to take over Southern Utah earlier this week.
In a Friday radio interview, though, UNLV athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy claimed that he all but bought the car. After verbally agreeing to become the Runnin' Rebels' next head coach, Kunzer-Murphy says, Cronin flew back to Cincinnati, ostensibly to inform people of his departure in person, and has had no contact with UNLV since.
So, UNLV AD now saying on @ESPNLasVegas that Cronin verbally agreed to a deal and then never called back when he went home to Cincy.— Geoff Grammer (@GeoffGrammer) March 25, 2016
And UNLV's official statement on the matter sure sounds like that of a jilted program — note the "his interest" and "we understand," shading Cronin as the party in the wrong.
Update, 5:05 p.m.: Cronin tells ESPN's Jeff Goodman that he never "officially" accepted UNLV's agreement.
Mick Cronin to ESPN: "I never officially accepted. The interest was flattering and I understand these things are difficult for everyone."— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) March 25, 2016
It's probably worth noting that there's rhetorical space between "verbal" and "official" agreements — and the difference is probably pen on paper.
Informed speculation this week suggested that Cronin could well have been using UNLV for leverage, with Cincinnati trying to position itself for a possible welcome to the Big 12 and facility upgrades trumping Cronin's salary on its list of concerns. But with money scarce, SB Nation's Cincinnati blog, Down the Drive, wondered why Cronin was overplaying his hand.
Cincinnati did not announce any modifications to Cronin's contract on Friday, but given that Cincinnati president Santa Ono tweeted effusively to announce Cronin would stay, it would seem entirely logical that some sort of enhancement of his compensation is coming. Unless Kunzer-Murphy is flatly lying about Cronin agreeing to an offer, it would seem odd for Cronin to have broken off such a public courtship without getting something from Cincinnati in return.
With Cronin back in Cincinnati, he can continue the work of making his alma mater a perennial March Madness participant, and aim for a seventh straight NCAA Tournament berth in 2016-17. Maybe the Bearcats will even make the Sweet Sixteen in 2017, something they have done just once under Cronin and twice this century.
Without Cronin in hand, the Rebels are back to square one in their coaching search.
Coaches under the Under Armour umbrella might be the next targets on Kunzer-Murphy's list. The Las Vegas Journal-Review reporting that UNLV's soon-to-expire apparel deal with Nike has made the Runnin' Rebels a hot commodity for the Maryland-based Under Armour as a potential western foothold.
That would apparently have made Cronin, coming from Cincinnati — which dropped adidas for Under Armour in 2015 — a coaching target so exciting that the apparel company might have provided as much as $1 million of an annual $3 million in compensation for him.
Just nine college basketball coaches that made the 2015 NCAA Tournament earned more than $3 million, according to a USA TODAY Sports database. If UNLV is really capable of ponying up that much, even with a significant assist from Under Armour, it might be able to land an impressive name. But Kunzer-Murphy batted down that speculation on the radio, as well.
For more on the ever-exciting world of college basketball coaching, see our 2016 coaching carousel tracker.