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Cincinnati's Mick Cronin embracing new role amid health scare

Cincinnati's Mick Cronin is embracing his new role after being sidelined with an arterial dissection.

I spoke with Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin for a while on Saturday. He was in excellent spirits -- and not just because his Bearcats had just notched their biggest win of the season, a 56-50 grinder at home over SMU. Cronin, who will be taking a break from coaching for the remainder of the season because of a health issue, feels very grateful to be alive and facing a very optimistic prognosis. Not surprisingly, he is reacting to this setback with a positive attitude, embracing the chance to slow down and re-evaluate his life.

For Cronin, the problems began during Cincinnati's game at Nebraska on Dec. 13, when he felt a searing pain in the back of his head. He tried to rest and take over-the-counter medicines to relieve the pain, but it wouldn’t go away. After coaching on Dec. 17 against San Diego State, Cronin was in so much agony that he arranged to have a CAT scan first thing the following morning.

The scan revealed that he had an abnormality in the back of his brain, but his neurologist couldn’t quite pinpoint the issue. It was initially described as an unruptured aneurysm, which forced Cronin to miss Cincinnati’s game against VCU on Dec. 20. (The Bearcats got blown out by 21 points.) For the next week, Cronin agonized as he awaited further word about his condition. "The waiting," he said, "was the worst part."

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Finally, Cronin’s neurologist told him that he did not have an aneurysm, which almost always requires surgery, but rather an arterial dissection. That is basically a very small hangnail-type separation in an artery inside Cronin’s brain. In some cases, an arterial dissection requires corrective surgery, and it can lead to a stroke. In Cronin’s case, his neurologist said his body would heal the dissection, but only if Cronin avoided strenuous activity. That includes exercise, but it especially includes coaching. If you’ve seen Cronin work, you know he isn’t exactly the calmest cat on the sidelines.

Thus the decision to step away. Cronin isn’t forbidden by his doctor or anyone else to attend practice, but he told me he won’t be attending them anyway. “I don’t want there to be any confusion as to who is running things,” he said. “My main focus now is to try to get Larry Davis coach of the year.” Cronin laughed that in his role, all he does is try to find positive things to say to his players, which is quite a refreshing change.

Cronin watched the team’s win over SMU while sitting at home. He said he stayed calm and will abide his doctor’s orders. He will be scanned again in about three months, and he is hopeful the dissection will be mostly healed by then. Cronin is 43 years old, and he understands that he has been given a great gift. “I’m going to take this time to step back and re-assess how I live my life,” he said. “I want to make sure I have the right balance. I mean, at one point I’m wondering, do I have a brain tumor? What’s wrong with me? This thing could have been a lot worse. Believe me, I know how lucky I am. You can’t help but be changed by that.”

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