Cronic leads Reinhardt into first-ever game
by Chris Goltermann
Even after a head coaching career that produced 222 high school victories and an induction into both Coweta and Cherokee counties respective Sports Hall of Fames, Danny Cronic's dream of becoming a head coach for a college program hadn't become a reality.
That's officially about to change.
More than two years after being hired to coach a Reinhardt program whose roster was nothing more than a blank sheet of paper, Cronic is on the cusp of beginning a new chapter of his career when the Eagles play the first football game in school history on Aug. 31 against Mercer - a program that will equally make a long-awaited return to college football this year.
For Cronic, 65, it's been worth the wait.
'I've always wanted to be a head coach at the college level, so it's really been a dream come true for me,' he said. 'We're excited about starting. There's been so many different phases. I've really enjoyed the process. There's much more to this job than just football.'
The opener for the NAIA school - which comes a week before Berry University takes the field for the first time and a year after Point University's debut - brings the number of instate football programs to 16.
That number will rise again in 2015 when Kennesaw State expands its athletic offerings to football. The school is in much the same position Reinhardt was when hiring Cronic in the spring of 2011.
Before the longtime high school coach, who guided East Coweta as well as The Heritage School on the field locally from 1990-2007 with the Indians and again in 2010 with the Hawks, can concern himself solely with 'X's and O's, he's been busy making sure that every 'i' is dotted and every 't' is crossed off the field.
'A lot of it is how you fill out paperwork, making sure their parents sign the correct forms,' Cronic said. 'So much of it involves getting them through the clearinghouse.'
As a new NAIA program, Reinhardt has been able to bring in well over 100 athletes during the first two years of recruiting, all of whom will start as underclassmen and the majority as freshmen or sophomores. With limited scholarships, the program has benefitted from Georgia's HOPE scholarship to attract recruits, though it has created quite the surplus of potential athletes.
'We had about 75 to 80 last year and we've now added 65 to 70 new kids,' Cronic said.
It can create an issue on both sides, as player and coach, however. Outside of a handful of transfers, the majority of the roster is made up of true freshmen, redshirts or sophomores - almost none of which have played in a college setting.
Without a senior class to guide the way, Cronic has surrounding himself with a large staff of coaches, the majority of which have previous college experiences as players and/or staff members. A pair - tight end coach Quinton Moses and defensive ends coach Tony Taylor - played professionally.
They include son, Drew, who as much experience as dad, having also been an assistant at West Georgia before taking a bigger role at Furman as an offensive coach and recruiting coordinator under Bobby Lamb, now Mercer's first-year head coach. The younger Cronic quarterbacked at East Coweta for his father before becoming a wide receiver and holder for Jim Donnan at Georgia.
'It's been great having him around,' said Danny of Drew, who has been an offensive coordinator at Central-Carroll under future Kennesaw State assistant coach Grant Chestnut when he was hired at Reinhardt. 'We didn't really plan for any of this. The timing just worked out right.'
The elder Cronic, meanwhile, finds himself in the role of sage while preparing a roster dominated by 18 and 19 yearolds for tackling the grind of playing more experienced programs.
'Right now I'm trying to mentor this first group. These are going to be our seniors for four years,' said Cronic. 'We want them to be able to grow into those leadership roles and try to guide them in the right direction.'
While the opener against Mercer puts both programs at even strength, the NAIA schedule expects to be demanding.
Reinhardt has four opponents that will begin the season ranked in its preseason Top-25 poll.
'As far as wins and losses this year, I really couldn't tell you,' Cronic said. 'We've been pleased with the quality of talent we have. They're just not experienced. They're all so young and to be asked to play against the type of opponents we have is going to be a challenge. But I think we're headed in the right direction.'