If it 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 levels.
His 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 completing before his eventual departure.
On Aug. 9, with little media attention or pomp and circumstance, Haden relieved coach Chad Kreuter of his duties after four years of service at the helm of the Trojan baseball team.
“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. “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 as anybody. We need to get back to our championship ways.”
Kreuter’s campaign was largely marred by underwhelming performances and unfulfilled expectations to the tune of a 111-117 (.487) overall record and a 39-63 (.382) showing in the Pac-10 — where the Trojans haven’t finished in the top five in since 2005.
In addition to those résumé killers, USC, under Kreuter, failed to complete a single season with a winning record, the longest drought for the program since George Wheeler and Sam Crawford’s futile teams floundered between 1922 and 1924.
But even without the gaudy numbers or trips to Omaha, his quiet exit was not lost on several of his former players.
“I enjoyed playing for Coach Kreuter and have the utmost respect for him,” said senior second baseman Joe De Pinto. “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, an individual who knows all too well the championship mentality Haden is hoping the baseball program can restore.
While Cruz, 51, spent the last two seasons with USC as a volunteer assistant, his first stint with the program was as a full-time assistant under legendary coach Mike Gillespie. During Cruz’s initial stop with the Trojans from 1993 to 1996, the team accumulated a record of 169-86-1 and made four straight NCAA Tournament appearances.
“I think it was important for Mr. Haden to stay within the coaching staff for this upcoming season because [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, leading the Loyola Marymount Lions from 1997 to 2008. He was named “Recruiter of the Year” in 1997 by Collegiate Baseball, 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,” said Cruz in the 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 as he takes over a team that has lacked the winning culture once synonymous with USC baseball.
Yet for Cruz — a seasoned manager in his own right — the challenge of lifting the Trojans from the basement of mediocrity is not a burden, but an opportunity.
“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.”