Loyola Marymount fired Frank Cruz on Wednesday, ending his 12-year tenure as head coach.
"I want to thank Frank Cruz for his years of dedicated service to LMU as head coach," LMU athletic director Bill Husak said in a statement. "Frank can be proud of many of his team’s accomplishments in the past 12 years, both on the field and in the classroom. However, I felt it was time for the baseball program to move in a new direction."
The Lions went just 23-32 in 2008 and have posted a sub-.500 record in Cruz’s tenure (329-356-3), but there’s likely more to this story than meets the eye. The timing of this move is peculiar–LMU hasn’t played a game in two months, and if the team’s on-field performance was such a concern, Cruz likely would have been dismissed closer to the end of the season. Cruz is well respected on the West Coast and in college baseball circles, having served as head coach of Team USA in 2004, spent four years on the NCAA rules committee and spent four years on Mike Gillespie’s coaching staff at Southern California (Gillespie still regards Cruz as one of his best friends). Cruz has overseen significant improvements in LMU’s facilities and led the program to three straight West Coast Conference titles and regional bids from 1998-2000, though the Lions haven’t reached regionals since. And Cruz has another year remaining on his contract, leading to speculation on the West Coast that one of his assistants could be promoted to head coach to save money. The school’s release said a replacement will be named in the near future, which lends the internal promotion rumors more credence. All three assistants have been at LMU just a year, but pitching coach and recruiting coordinator Drew Keehn would seem like the most obvious candidate. There are also rumblings that LMU could name Keehn and Shane Schumaker co-head coaches for a year.
The Loyola Marymount opening will attract no shortage of extremely qualified candidates, as it is the first Division I head coaching job to open up this year on the West Coast–an area that is teeming with quality assistants looking for their first head job.
Schools in the WCC all have similar profiles–small, private, Christian schools with quality academics–and an assistant from a rival WCC school would seem particularly well equipped to succeed at LMU. San Diego’s Eric Valenzuela, Pepperdine’s Sean Kenny and Santa Clara’s Mike Zirelli are all quality pitching coaches and recruiters, and all would be good fits for LMU.
But the Lions are certain to lure interested parties from beyond their own conference. From the Pacific-10, UCLA’s Rick Vanderhook, Oregon’s Jason Gill (a former Cruz assistant at LMU), and California’s Dan Hubbs are all ready to be head coaches and all have roots in Southern California. From the Big West, Cal State Fullerton’s Greg Bergeron (a former LMU player who started his coaching career with the Lions as well) has done great work with the offenses at UC Irvine and CSF, and Long Beach State’s Jon Strauss spent three seasons as the pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at LMU (2003-05). And from the WAC, Matt Curtis helped assemble a national champion as Fresno State’s recruiting coordinator.
Supply of capable West Coach coaching candidates far exceeds demand this summer, so expect LMU to have nearly its pick of the region’s best up-and-coming coaches.
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