Cruz to stay on as full-time head coach

Frank Cruz, who has been USC's interim head baseball coach for the last nine months, will be given the job on a full-time basis, Trojans athletic director Part Haden announced Thursday.

Cruz, who was formerly the coach of nearby Loyola Marymount for 12 years, has served as an assistant at USC for a combined six years under former head coaches Mike Gillespie and Chad Kreuter. Under his leadership this season, the Trojans are 10-11 in Pac-10 play, their best conference record in five years.

“I believe Frank is the right fit to lead our baseball program,” Haden said in a statement. “He has the character and integrity that we seek, he knows USC and the landscape of college baseball and he has shown that he can put together winning teams. I have seen marked progress with our team throughout this season and I like how competitive it has been.

“USC is the most successful college baseball program in the country and we need to get back to that championship level."

The Trojans own the most national championships, all-time, of any college in the nation, with 12. But they haven't won since 1998 and haven't qualified for the NCAA tournament since 2005. This year's team is already eliminated from postseason contention by virtue of its 20-28 record with eight games to go, as teams must finish with an above-.500 record to qualify.

Cruz, taking over for Kreuter, inherited what some called the most difficult nonconference schedule in the country this year, with preseason series against the likes of Rice and Cal State Fullerton. The Trojans struggled to a 10-17 record in those games but have rebounded some in conference play.

“I am honored to be offered this opportunity, and I am humbled to be following in the footsteps of USC coaching legends Rod Dedeaux and Mike Gillespie," Cruz said Thursday. "I want to thank Pat Haden and the USC administration for having the trust in me to lead the USC baseball program. And I especially want to thank our current players and staff for helping make this happen with their commitment to getting USC baseball back among the elite programs in the country.

"Going forward, we will build on the competitive atmosphere that we put in place this season.”

During Cruz' first stint as a USC assistant under Gillespie, from 1993-1996, the Trojans qualified for the NCAA tournament all four years and made it all the way to the College World Series championship game in 1995. In a dozen years at LMU, he made three NCAA tournaments and and was named the West Coast Conference Coach of the Year three times. He was named Collegiate Baseball's Recruiter of the Year his first year with the Lions.

After being fired at LMU in July 2008, he joined the Trojans as a volunteer assistant later that year and worked two years under Kreuter in that role. He had switched to a paid full-time role last offseason before Haden, then in his first month on the job, fired Kreuter and announced Cruz as the interim coach.

"Having been a part of our success in the past, Frank has a vision on how to return USC to national prominence and to do so by winning in the right way," Haden said. "He knows he has his work cut out for him next year because we lose the nucleus of this team, but I have been impressed with his ability as a coach, teacher, leader and recruiter.”

USC has eight games remaining in the 2011 season, including a three-game weekend series against Washington State later this month at Dedeaux Field to conclude the year.