April 23, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Sean Cronin is on a third stint with the Marshall football coaching staff.
And for a third time, he’s also on a staff with his father-in-law, new Thundering Herd defensive coordinator Chuck Heater.
Make no mistake, however.
Cronin is back on coach Doc Holliday’s staff after a two-year stint as Temple’s defensive line coach mostly because of football, not family.
The Herd’s defensive ends coach has been part of four national championships, two as a player at Georgetown (Ky.) and two as a graduate assistant at Florida.
“Yes, he’s my son-in-law but I felt like it was an important piece for me to have comfort and confidence in the (defensive) front being coordinated with what we do,” Heater said. “It’s a whole brand new staff, in a way, and this is the best thing for us, when we had that opportunity to have Sean help me put that thing together. We went in that direction.”
The connection began after Cronin’s first stop at Marshall, as a graduate assistant with former Coach Mark Snyder’s first staff in 2005. Cronin, a Cincinnati native and former Moeller High star, had played defensive line in three straight NAIA title games (2000-02) for Georgetown (Ky.).
He then moved to Florida as a GA … where Urban Meyer’s star-studded staff over the years included Heater, Holliday, Charlie Strong, Dan Mullen, Steve Addazio, Dan McCarney and Greg Mattison. The Gators won the national title in the ’06 season (and again in 2008).
Besides meeting Holliday – to set him up for hire on Doc’s first Herd staff in 2010 – he met Heater … or more important personally, Heater’s daughter, Emily.
“I’ve got the greatest wife in the world,” Cronin, 33, said recently in his office in the Shewey Building. “Emily grew up with Chuck being a coach, and she knows how it is … the job is so demanding and if priorities aren’t straight about football, I couldn’t do what I do without her.
“She was in charge of recruiting at Florida, and we had a couple of No. 1 recruiting classes. Chuck was the recruiting coordinator; Doc was the guy on the road, very heavily involved, obviously. He’s really the master at it. Emily was the administrator, handled all of the visits, planning, things like that.”
When Addazio left UF for the head coaching job at Temple, he hired Heater as defensive coordinator, and hired Cronin, too. Addazio moved to Boston College this offseason, and Heater was brought in by Holliday to give a big upgrade to the defense. Cronin followed … eventually.
The Cronins, married May 16, 2009, had their second daughter – Caitlin Erin – on St. Patrick’s Day, in Philadelphia. That birth delayed Cronin’s move here, where their first child, Grace Elizabeth, was born July 18, 2010, at Cabell Huntington Hospital – only a few months after the Cronins had moved here from his one season at The Citadel -- Cronin’s first full-time coaching gig.
“Chuck is my father-in-law but before he was my father-in-law he was my boss at Florida,” Cronin said, smiling. “So, I already had a great working relationship and obviously he’s the greatest guy in the world or I’d never have been able to date his daughter.
“We have a great relationship and a common belief system, and we’re very familiar with this defense and its problems, so it’s just really easy to work together.
“I’ve been really fortunate. The staff I was on at Florida with Doc and Chuck was just an unbelievable staff and I’ve always had great admiration for those guys and a great deal of respect for them as coaches.
Doc, Chuck, Greg, Charlie and those guys … and so I was the young coach, kind of being mentored by those guys. My first kind of break was here at Marshall (as a GA), and then to go there and learn from those guys and what they accomplished was a huge experience for me.”
As much as anyone, Cronin has a great eye to evaluate where the Herd program was when he first joined Holliday in 2010, and then three seasons later after his two with the Owls.
“Doc is the recruiting master, and obviously we’re much more talented than we were when I was here first time,” Cronin said. “He’s done an unbelievable job with these classes, so there’s a lot more to work with and his leadership, too, has brought this team so much farther along.
“When we first got here, we were changing the culture and doing some different things, and now, kids know exactly what to expect, and the program’s a lot farther down the road. We’re a new staff with a lot of energy, a lot of young guys. It’s good to be back.”
And with his father-in-law also coaching the safeties and cornerbacks, Cronin is part of a two-man defensive staff up front. He has the ends and second-year man J.C. Price works with tackles. Price was the line coach solo last season.
One of the interesting aspects of spring practice – it ends Saturday with the annual Green-White Game at 2 p.m. at Edwards Stadium – has been the coaches’ and their players’ interaction. Heater has seen that up-close.
“Sean has been around great coaches, Urban, Greg Mattison, Dan McCarney, good defensive coaches and you’ve got J.C., who’s got a great background, so it’s been great watching those two guys mesh, help each other a bit, trade ideas,” Heater said. “It’s a good thing to have that front coordinated the way it was coordinated at Florida and the way we did it Temple.
“This is the stuff we were doing at Florida, at Temple. Sean knows what we do; he knows how to organize it and structure it. My expertise is in the back end (secondary), so it’s a real comfort level to have him up front. I thought he was an important guy, when we were making that decision, that Sean was an important piece up front.”
Cronin didn’t know Price – a former Virginia Tech star and eight-year James Madison assistant before he moved to Marshall -- before they coached together. Now, it’s like they’ve been double-teaming the Jeremiah Taylors and Brandon Sparrows for a long time.
“I did not know J.C. before, but I knew they always played really good football at JMU,” Cronin said. “When I came back and watched tape of guys playing last year, the defensive front, the fundamentals were very strong, and then having discussions with J.C., it’s obvious he’s a great defensive line coach.
“To get to work with him, I’ve learned a lot already and it just makes it really easy -- the same thing I said about those other guys I respect. J.C. played the game at the highest level and as a coach he really understands the game and is a great teacher.”
Cronin doesn’t have to think long when asked whether it’s an advantage to have two defensive line coaches with separate responsibilities, allowing players to get more individual attention and teaching.
“It does make a difference. It definitely does,” Cronin said. “The most important thing -- and me and J.C. both believe it -- it has to be a unit. The defensive linemen have to work together, have to work as one, all four as one, and in that sense it makes it hard when you split them up.
“However, it’s great here because we’re on the same page. We’re teaching the same things, using the same language. We keep them together. We keep them as one, even coach each other’s guys. Look, those ends played for J.C. (last season) and learned a lot from him, so sometimes I may teach something and say it one way and it doesn’t click.
“And then he comes back and he’ll say it a different way and they’ll get it. So I think it’s a great advantage here the way it’s structured because there are some specifics to defensive tackles and some specifics to ends where we can break off and teach those finer points.
“But overall, they’re a unit and we try to keep them together as a unit. J.C. was their coach; he was their coach and he’s still their coach. My ends are still playing for J.C. and his tackles are playing for me.
“We’re trying to do it together and it’s working great.”
Either way, for Cronin it’s a family that’s really getting along.