Southern California fired head coach Chad Kreuter on Monday after four disappointing seasons. The Trojans also announced that assistant Frank Cruz will serve as interim head coach for the 2011 season.
Kreuter took over as head coach after USC forced out his father-in-law, long-time Trojans coach Mike Gillespie, after the 2006 season. Kreuter had spent 16 years in the big leagues as a catcher and came to USC following a stint as a minor league manager in the Rockies system. His only previous college coaching experience was a season as USC's director of baseball operations.
The Trojans failed to make regionals in his four-year tenure, during which they went 111-117 (.487) overall and 39-63 (.382) in the Pacific-10 Conference. His teams finished no higher than fifth place in the league standings, placing ninth in 2007 and 10th in 2010, when USC went 28-32 overall (7-20 in the Pac-10). And in the Kreuter era, USC won just three of 14 games against crosstown rival UCLA (coached by former Trojan John Savage).
"On my first day on the job at USC last week, I said one of my goals was to return the USC baseball program to national prominence," new athletic director Pat Haden said in a release. "There is no reason we shouldn't be there.
"We thank Chad Kreuter for his four years of hard work and service, but this move was necessary to revitalize our program. USC is synonymous with college baseball. This is the most successful and tradition-laden program in the country. We've won twice as many College World Series titles (12) as anybody. We need to get back to our championship ways."
Cruz will have a chance to prove he's the man to return USC to its glory days, but he faces an uphill battle in his audition, because USC's roster figures to be one of the least talented in the conference. Cruz has spent the last two seasons as a volunteer assistant at USC since he was fired by Loyola Marymount, where he reached regionals three times in 12 seasons as the head coach. He started his college coaching career as an assistant under Gillespie at USC from 1993-96.
"Because this move is being made much later in the year than is customary and with school starting here in 2 weeks, we have asked Frank Cruz to step in as head coach on an interim basis this season," Haden said. "He has graciously accepted that challenge. Frank is a highly regarded and experienced coach who was part of some very successful USC teams in the past, and we believe he will get our program headed back into a winning direction.
"We will spend this coming season identifying the best coach possible for USC and we will include Frank Cruz in the pool of candidates. I'm confident we will find the right person to get us playing again at a championship level."
Many insiders have speculated that they expected the Trojans to make a strong run at Oregon coach George Horton after Kreuter was dismissed, and Horton (a Southern California native) might well be willing to listen to overtures next summer. Other prime targets include Cal State Fullerton's Dave Serrano, San Diego's Rich Hill, Fresno State's Mike Batesole and perhaps even Savage. Former Arizona State coach Pat Murphy could also be a factor, depending on the soon-to-be-released results of the NCAA's probe into rules violations at ASU during his tenure.
Certainly the job should attract plenty of interest from big-name candidates. As Haden pointed out, USC's championship tradition is unmatched, and its resources and facilities are among the best on the West Coast.
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