Out With The Old, In With The New: Haden Fires Kreuter, Promotes Cruz
If the saying is true that success is bred from stability, Pat Haden, in his short time as USC’s new athletic director, is going a long way toward repaving that road for a program once accustomed to accomplishments on the highest of levels.
On Monday, with little media attention or pomp and circumstance, Haden relieved USC manager Chad Kreuter of his duties as baseball coach after four years of service at the helm of the Trojans’ ball club.
"We thank Chad Kreuter for his four years of hard work and service, but this move was necessary to revitalize our program,” Haden said in a succinct statement released by the university on Monday.
“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."
Haden's latest move wasn’t a head-scratcher, or the type of decision that will define his hopefully long-standing tenure at USC. Nonetheless, it was the right move; one his predecessor shied away from before his eventual departure.
Kreuter’s four-year campaign was largely marred by underwhelming performances and unfulfilled expectations -- to the tune of an 111-117 (.487) overall record and a 39-63 (.382) showing in the Pac-10, a conference they haven’t cracked the top five in since 2005.
In addition to those resume killers, USC failed to complete a single season with a winning record under Kreuter, the longest such drought for the program since the 1920s.
But even without the gaudy numbers or trips to Omaha, Kreuter's quiet exit was not lost upon his former players.
“I enjoyed playing for coach Kreuter and have the utmost respect for him,” senior second baseman Joe De Pinto said. “I appreciate everything he taught me.”
The man slotted to replace the departed Kreuter on an interim basis for the 2011 season is Frank Cruz -- a man who knows all too well the championship level Haden is hoping the baseball program can get back to.
Cruz, 51, spent the last two seasons with USC as a volunteer assistant, but his first stint with the program was as a full-time assistant under legendary coach Mike Gillespie. During Cruz’ initial stop with the Trojans (1993-1996), all the team did was accumulate a record of 169-86-1 while appearing in four straight NCAA Tournaments.
“I think it was important for Mr. Haden to stay within the coaching staff for this upcoming season because coach Cruz knows what Trojan baseball is all about,” De Pinto said. “After talking to other players there is a new sense of excitement swirling around the clubhouse and we are all looking forward to a successful 2011 season.”
Cruz is no stranger to the managerial position, having led the Loyola Marymount Lions from 1997 to 2008. He was named “Recruiter of the Year” in 1997 by the Collegiate Baseball publication and compiled 329 victories in his 12 years in the West Coast Conference -- eighth all-time in the conference’s history.
“This is a bittersweet time for me," Cruz said in a statement. "I really enjoyed working for Chad Kreuter and I have the utmost respect for him. I hate to see him go. He put his heart and soul into coaching the USC baseball team.”
For Haden’s hand-picked interim manager to restore the heart and soul of a once-celebrated program it will take more than a little patience. He is set to take over a team that has lacked the winning culture USC baseball has been defined by throughout its storied history.
Yet for Cruz, a seasoned manager in his own right, the challenge of lifting the Trojans from the depths of mediocrity is an opportunity not a burden.
“I want this program to succeed in every way possible,” Cruz said. “I will get to work immediately to continue to improve our program and I appreciate the opportunity given to me to do that.”
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