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Published: Wednesday, 3/17/2010

Evidence points to Cross being fired, not quitting

There is one question regarding Gene Cross leaving the University of Toledo that no one seems able or willing to answer.

If the men's basketball coach quit, why is he remaining on the payroll until Aug. 1?

"That was the arrangement that was made," UT athletic director Mike O'Brien said. "That's all I can tell you."

O'Brien has said from the start that Cross quit. Cross insisted he quit. A university spokesman says Cross quit. Some UT trustees have told The Blade that their impression was Cross quit.

Anybody with half a brain knows they're all full of it. Or, at the very least, they are playing fast and free with semantics.

If you or I quit our jobs today, we're off the payroll by dinnertime. If we're fired and our contract calls for severance, then we get a check on our way out the door.

But Cross quits and gets the check too?

It doesn't work that way, friends, even in the wacky world of college coaching contracts, especially at a publicly funded university and especially at a mid-major school whose athletic department counts pennies and paperclips.

UT may have a resignation letter signed by Cross, but him voluntarily quitting is not what happened.

What happened is that Cross won 11 games in two years, and only four during the most recent and most wretched season. Based on the talent on the floor, and the coaching those players were getting, there was little reason to expect more than marginal improvement next season. On that basis alone, UT needed to make a change.

Then, a letter surfaced that called Cross' personal life into question. We won't go into all the lurid details, but it wasn't flattering. For the record, Cross denied the allegations.

I can't tell you how I know this, but I can tell you this wasn't the first time UT officials heard similar rumors. It wasn't even the first time they had addressed them with the coach.

But on the heels of a 4-28 season - the worst in Rocket history - that featured 19 straight losses, it was the tipping point. From the president's office to the Savage Arena suites to the athletic department suits, it was clear Cross had to go.

Keeping him on the payroll through Aug. 1 - in essence, five months of severance pay worth about $100,000 - was the push to get him quickly and quietly (it didn't quite pan out, eh?) through the door. It also was in Cross' best interest to leave the rest of his contracted base pay, about $750,000, on the table if he had any hope of escaping under the cover of darkness and landing another job in coaching. Good luck.

Toledo's final RPI was No. 324 out of 347 Division I basketball teams. When longtime coach Stan Joplin was fired after the 2007-08 season, the Rockets ranked No. 187 out of 341 teams and that was just one season removed from being a top-100 program.

The slide has been precipitous and for that reason Cross had to be replaced. All the other stuff, and it's possible we haven't heard the end of it, just greased his exit.

Cross quit? It may say that on a piece of paper, and UT officials can repeat it all they like, but the rest of us have 100,000 reasons to not be so gullible.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398



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