June 21, 2024

The sport coat flew through the air. The screaming coach stomped on the ground.

The heat is on at UCLA, and Mick Cronin is slowly dissolving into a powder-blue puddle.

The Bruin coach shed his jacket, lost his temper and shouted and pointed at the officials after a questionable foul call late in the first half of a Saturday night game against Cal.

The outburst cost his team a technical foul. It cost UCLA a four-point play. It eventually led to a 66-57 defeat to the worst team in the Pac-12.

And it was only the beginning of Cronin’s meltdown.

At the end of a week in which he publicly questioned his players’ intelligence while threatening to throw them off the team, Cronin lost his cool, then lost his grip and is it any wonder his team has lost its way?

After making a scene on Nell and John Wooden court Saturday night, Cronin did just the opposite in the nearby press conference room.

He didn’t show.

He tapped out of the postgame press conference, instead sending assistant coach Rod Palmer in his place.

Cronin didn’t face the music. He didn’t confront the questions. He wasn’t accountable. He disappeared.

Palmer said Cronin was still talking to the team and didn’t want to keep the media waiting, but the media traditionally will wait forever for the coach, so that excuse landed like that wrinkled wardrobe on the hardwood.

Bottom line, Cronin is being paid $4.1 million this season to represent his team and his university, yet at the lowest point in his five-year tenure here, he did neither. During the most difficult of times, he was nowhere to be found, an embarrassment for the program and a disconcerting message for his team.

When the going gets tough, you run?

UCLA coach Mick Cronin, right, yells at a referee during the first half of the Bruins' loss to California at Pauley Pavilion.

UCLA coach Mick Cronin, right, yells at a referee during the first half of the Bruins’ loss to California at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday night.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

This type of media strategy may have worked for Cronin in his previous stop in Cincinnati, but it doesn’t play in Los Angeles. Coaches in this market show up and face the critics. Every game. Every time. The sophisticated fan base demands it. The entertainment environment mandates it.

Chip Kelly, the Bruins football coach, has never missed a postgame press conference, even amid premature reports of his firing.

Darvin Ham, the Lakers basketball coach, is in the middle of a broiling controversy that could threaten his job, and yet he talks before and after every game.

Cronin didn’t allow any of his players to speak either on Saturday night, and that’s bad enough, but for a coach to pull the same stunt is unconscionable.

Look, it’s been a tough year for the usually gregarious and accessible Cronin, we get it. The Bruins are 6-9 and in last place in the Pac-12 and have lost four in a row at Pauley Pavilion for the first time in 21 years and are surely driving this good man nuts, we understand.

They have seven freshmen and eight newcomers, and it shows. They don’t know where to run. They don’t know how to shoot. They are tentative to the point of playing scared. They just broke Cal’s 19-game Pac-12 losing streak, for goodness sakes.

UCLA coach Mick Cronin shows his frustration during a game against St. Francis at Pauley Pavilion in November.

UCLA coach Mick Cronin shows his frustration during a game against St. Francis at Pauley Pavilion in November.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

But still, Cronin, who has a 105-46 record at UCLA, is handling this newfound losing horribly.

Before Saturday’s debacle, Cronin said some things after Wednesday’s loss to Stanford that were particularly troublesome.

Historically, the worse his team plays, the more he always seems to blame it on the players, and with his tough veterans in the past that has seemed to work. But this week his personal rips reached a new and disturbing low when he not only threw his young team under the bus, but then threw the bus into drive and gunned the gas.

And, no, this time, it’s not working.

“We’re just not very smart,” he said after the Stanford loss.

Really? Do you really want to say that about 18-year-old students?

“Aptitude is a big issue for us right now … the most important thing for a teacher is for his students to have aptitude or they can’t learn, they can’t apply, so your rate of progress and development is way too slow,” he said.

Seriously? So you’re saying your players are not only not smart, but flat-out dumb? How is this crude evaluation landing with the players and their families? And how is this landing with future recruits?

Besides, isn’t the most important thing for a struggling teacher that he, um, teach better?

“You can’t call your mommy, she can’t help you,” Cronin said. “You’ve got an opportunity of a lifetime and it may not last forever, depending on your performance.”

So this is basically a threat to throw college kids off the team if they don’t perform better. Nice. The “mommy” of the next great Southern California prep star is surely reading this and wincing.

Bruin fans might be worried that they have seen this before. Ben Howland went to three Final Fours in his first five years, then became increasingly tough on his players and alienated many local recruits and didn’t make it out of the second round in his next four years before getting fired.

Cronin has been to one Final Four and two Sweet Sixteens in his first four seasons but, like Howland, his tough-love methods are not beloved by the local prep stars. Folks in laid-back homes watch him rant on the sidelines and then rip in the postgame and wonder if this is really the right place for their sons.

Cracks in his recruiting began showing this year, when he brought in four international players among his eight newcomers because several transfer portal candidates and local high school stars wouldn’t commit.

But, once again, instead of blaming it on his methods and vowing to adjust, Cronin blamed it on something else entirely. He basically said UCLA doesn’t have the money to pay the big-time transfers.

“Is your question, ‘Did we try to get older transfers?’” he told reporters. “Absolutely. So did the Reds, but the Dodgers get them.”

While that is true, college basketball is also an evolving sport where San Diego State and Florida Atlantic University advanced to last season’s Final Four, confirming that small payrolls can also make it big.

Cronin should stop making excuses and start making adjustments.

The root of the Cronin issue revealed itself during a criticism of French freshman Ilane Fibleuil earlier this week. In ripping his development, Cronin said, “That’s on him, not me.”

No Mick, it’s on you, you’re the coach.

Now act like it.

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