SportStars Magazine

NorCal Coach Of The Year: Paul Cronin

Fifteen-Year Coach Of Cardinal Newman-Santa Rosa Guided Cardinals Through Wildfire Tragedy And Into A Section Final •

Story By CHACE BRYSON | Photo By HAROLD ABEND

When the sun rose on the city of Santa Rosa on the morning of Oct. 9, it brought light to chaos. The Tubbs Fire, a blaze that began in Calistoga and was accelerated by howling winds, had already ravaged parts of the city and was still burning its way through what would eventually total more than 5,600 structures across three counties before it was officially 100 percent contained — 22 days later.

The campus of Cardinal Newman was home to some of those structures.

That morning and across the ensuing 24 hours, Cardinal Newman football coach Paul Cronin would eventually learn that 20 classrooms, the library, the main administration building and the half of the baseball field had been erased from the Cardinal Newman campus. And five of his players, including his starting quarterback, had lost their homes.

Thus, his 15th season leading the Cardinals program would be like no other.

Despite spending the rest of their season borrowing the facilities of schools like Rancho Cotate-Rohnert Park and El Molino-Forestville, having games cancelled, and having no true home field advantage — and quite honestly, having to rekindle a passion for the game — Cronin helped shepherd his players to a good place. And from that good place, came shelter in the form of diversion and routine.

For this alone, he was deserving of SportStars NorCal Coach of the Year honors. A no-brainer choice in a season that included other stellar candidates who were considered, including PIttsburg’s Victor Galli, Placer-Auburn’s Joey Montoya, Serra-San Mateo’s Patrick Walsh and McClymonds-Oakland’s Michael Peters.

But Cardinal Newman football didn’t just survive the wreckage. It won in spite of it. The Cardinals would lose their first game after the fires on Oct. 23, but would follow it with five straight wins to earn the North Bay League title and eventually reach the North Coast Section Div. III championship. In the NCS semifinals, Newman came from behind to beat Rancho Cotate 29-28. They would fall 59-56 to Marin Catholic-Kentfield in the championship game.

Cronin’s efforts were a marvel to the many writers who covered the team’s story.

“Being literally in the middle of the worst wildfire of California history, literally in the middle of your season, and to come mere points away from winning a section championship is really unfathomable,” MaxPreps.com senior writer Mitch Stephens said. “Yet, Paul Cronin, showing this unique combination of strength, compassion and authenticity, kept that program not only afloat, but also focused and resolved.

“It was far beyond a coaching job. It was an impeccable display of leadership and humanity. One those players — and community — will never forget.”

Cronin, of course, said the credit belonged to his players.

“They’re super smart kids, they’re super tough kids, and they love one another,” Cronin told the San Francisco Chronicle following the team’s season-ending loss. “So I had no doubt they were going to come back (after the fire) and play hard and see their season through. I’m really proud of them.”

That’s coaching.

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