Former Pitt captain Cavanaugh blazes trail as entrepreneur
Pat Cavanaugh said he once peddled so many shoes door to door that a company vice president sent him a letter asking if he wanted to be a sales manager. Cavanaugh was busy and had to decline. Also, he was 10.
“I was always selling things,” he said.
Mostly himself. As a Pitt freshman, the walk-on point guard so impressed first-year basketball coach Paul Evans that he got a scholarship within a month and later captained the Panthers.
When he was 21, Cavanaugh ran a merchandise branding company from his Oakland apartment. That led to the Cavanaugh Marketing Co. and then The Crons Brand, an athletic apparel and motivational firm. Crons stands for Come Ready or Never Start. The latest venture is Come Ready Nutrition, which markets sports nutrition products in the U.S. and 16 other countries.
Cavanaugh, 47, is driven, energetic and unshakably confident. He incorporates goal-setting in all aspects of his business and life. “Goal Games,” held in several cities for young students, is one of Crons' motivational programs. One reason Cavanaugh gives for his exemplary physical condition is the 100,000 pushups he did last year. His professional goal is to grow the company and own an NBA team.
“We all have our stories growing up,” he said recently in a conference room at Crons in West View (the company is moving to Wexford in July). “There's always somebody or something that gets in your way. And I lived it. I was able to, most of the time, get to where I wanted to.”
Crons started out selling apparel only, outfitting the Robert Morris men's basketball team in game uniforms for a season. The company currently supplies seven mid-major college conferences and about 500 school and youth sports programs with non-uniform apparel and gear inscribed with motivational messages.
The latest venture is a new line of gluten-free performance bars with names like Chocolate Chip Zip and Colossal Caramel Crunch for adults and, especially, kids who play sports.
“We're trying to not only help kids get better on the field, we're trying from a sports nutrition standpoint,” Cavanaugh said. “ ‘Here are the things you should be looking at.' You don't want things with artificial alcohol sugars in them. You want to make sure you understand what your child needs.”
Leslie Bonci is Cavanaugh's chief advisor in this field. She is the director of sports nutrition at UPMC Sports Medicine and nutritionist to several professional and college teams, including Pitt, the Steelers, Penguins and Pirates.
“He's one of those people who know what they know and know what they don't know,” Bonci said of Cavanaugh. “They had the basic format but were kind of looking to take it to the next level.”
Also expanding is the Crons Achievers Program, which markets a curriculum to parents, coaches, teachers and students that teaches children how to set and achieve their goals and manage adversity.
Cavanaugh grew up in Grove City, the son of industrious parents. His father, John, taught school for 38 years. He also sold insurance and cars. Cavanaugh said he went to Disney for the first time after his dad sold 30 insurance policies in 30 days.
“He hustled,” Cavanaugh said. “He had to. He was one of eight kids. With three kids of his own, he had to do other things.”
His mom, Sue, was head dietician at Grove City College and Slippery Rock.
Cavanaugh turned down scholarship offers in football and basketball from the likes of Lehigh, George Mason and Holy Cross. He craved a bigger stage, even though he kept hearing he wasn't good enough (“Ignore the noise” is a favorite Crons slogan). He attended West Point Prep and walked on to the Pitt football team as a quarterback.
Cavanaugh redshirted, then joined Charles Smith, Jerome Lane and company on the basketball team in 1986. During his four years, he backed up Mike Goodson, Sean Miller and Darelle Porter, and twice was voted captain. Coming off the bench his freshman year, he helped Pitt win its first Big East Tournament game.
“(Evans) gave me an opportunity,” Cavanaugh said. “I delivered for him. He delivered for me.”
Pitt went to the NCAA Tournament three times in Cavanaugh's first three seasons and never got past the second round. He is running his own team now, and it still is peaking.
“I like his focus. I like his determination,” said Crons consultant Anthony Griggs, a former NFL linebacker who was the Steelers' director of player development for 13 years. “He has that gleam in his eye. He wants to be the best.”