Life In The Bohn Zone

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Today, the University of Cincinnati is introducing the latest athletic department addition — current Xavier head baseball coach Scott Googins.

Googins has had great success at Xavier, a place without the history, facilities, or conference typically required to have success in the college baseball world. It’s a home run hire for the Bearcats, and it’s just the latest in a line of successes from Athletic Director Mike Bohn. It’s about time somebody formally acknowledged the work he’s done at UC.

Bohn was hired by UC in February 2014. That was just over three years ago, but the landscape of the athletic department was vastly different back then. Nippert was a construction site, Tommy Tuberville was head coach, and many Olympic programs looked vastly different than they do now.

Bohn saw the Nippert project through to completion, which seems like a simple task. However, the university has had ADs in the past who would have somehow messed that up. Bohn brought it home.

In July 2014, he hired Mandy Commons-DiSalle to oversee the swimming and diving program. In her tenure, the Bearcats have 10 individual AAC titles and have established 18 new school records.

Last year, Bohn renegotiated Tommy Tuberville’s contract, allowing a smoother exit when the time was right in December. I’m still not sure how he pulled it off, but the Bearcats were able to make a coaching change earlier than expected and the buyout wound up being lower than it was in the original contract.

Bohn sealed up the football program fairly quickly by bringing in Luke Fickell. Many, myself included, were a bit confused by the move. He checked very few boxes from my standpoint, and then there was talk of some kind of “computer analysis” that supported his hiring. It was a bit of a bold move, and while Fickell has yet to coach a game, the last six months of Bearcats football have been some of the most exciting in program history. Fickell immediately out-recruited Tuberville in his first class, despite an abbreviated window of time, and his first full class is on target to be the best in program history. In six months of offseason, Fickell has probably done more for UC football’s local perception than Tuberville and Butch Jones did combined. Bohn saw that potential.

If the new hires weren’t enough, Bohn has also been fantastic about keeping the right coaches on board. Women’s soccer coach Neil Stafford — who won an AAC Tournament Championship in the Bohn tenure — remains in place. Volleyball coach Molly Alvey — who piloted the Bearcats to an NCAA Tournament appearance before being named head coach of the collegiate national team — is still here. Most notably, Bohn has kept Mick Cronin on board in Clifton, in part by getting him a new arena.

Bohn’s biggest stamp on the university broke ground following the conclusion of the 2016–17 basketball season in March. The new Fifth Third Arena is the latest in a line of infrastructure updates the university has seen in recent years, and it’s perhaps the most deserved. The arena was badly out-of-date, and the new facility looks pristine. Bohn not only got the project ready to go, but he intelligently avoided the beckoning call of a permanent home at US Bank Arena, and negotiated the best short-term deal for UC when he signed up to play the 2017–18 season at Northern Kentucky University.

And it’s not only these big picture successes that make the Mike Bohn tenure stand out. There are also achievements in the classroom, and innovations in gender-equality in athletics administration.

Say what you want about the current state of UC athletics, but I think you’d have a very tough case arguing that things haven’t improved greatly in the last three years.

So why are so few Bearcats raving about all that Bohn has done in Cincinnati?

I think the answer is both simple and understandable. Not only is the school still languishing in the American Athletic Conference — a situation that, in hindsight, appears to have been well beyond Mike Bohn’s control — but the optics of the Bohn tenure have rarely been pretty.

First, Bohn took over UC at a tumultuous time. The fan base was in a panic about the conference situation and the end of Bohn’s tenure in Colorado made many feel unease, especially considering outgoing AD Whit Babcock was viewed largely favorably at the time.

If I may Cold Take myself:

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Once the Bohn tenure got underway, things often looked messy and out of control.

First there was the spring 2016 flirtation between Cronin and UNLV. I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of what was happening there, but I get the sense that Bohn may have let things get a little too far before reeling Cronin back in and ensuring that an arena renovation was on the way. In the end, Bohn came out with what was best for UC, but it wasn’t the prettiest.

Then there was the downfall of the Tuberville tenure. Bohn didn’t hire Tommy, and he ended up pulling the plug at the right time. But for a while there in the middle, things looked pretty bad. Word of a contract re-negotiation got out at a really poor time, and the fan base smashed the panic button halfway through the 2016 season. In the end, the contract restructuring seemed to work in UC’s favor, Tuberville was removed when he needed to be, and even an “underwhelming” replacement hire has been a huge success so far.

Most recently, there was the shocking departure of head baseball coach Ty Neal. Neal took over a rebuilding job at UC, and was slowly getting things moving in the right direction. While the win-loss record had yet to fully show the turnaround, Neal was doing a good job getting Bearcats baseball moving in the right direction. His sudden departure following the 2016–17 regular season had many wondering if Bohn had allowed a rift to form between him and his baseball coach. While we still don’t know the details of the Neal departure (and I don’t think we ever will), the addition of Googins is the latest in a line of perfect finishes at the end of clumsy maneuvers.

The Mike Bohn tenure has rarely been pretty, and — despite everyone’s best efforts — has fallen short of the ultimate goal of Power Five glory. However, there is more than enough to be praised, and I can’t say enough about the trajectory of Bearcats athletics over the past three years.