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Published: Friday, 3/12/2010

UT's Cross quits as men's basketball coach after second season

BY ZACH SILKA AND JOE VARDON
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

Gene Cross walked away from his first head coaching job and more than $700,000 remaining on his contract when he opted to resign as the University of Toledo men's basketball coach.

UT athletic director Mike O'Brien announced Cross' resignation at a news conference yesterday at Savage Arena, insisting that Cross did indeed resign and was not fired.

"In our discussions, which were private and personal, it came to the conclusion that this is something that Gene wanted to do," O'Brien said. "This is his decision."

Another UT official who spoke to The Blade on the condition of anonymity also said Cross was not fired.

The University of Toledo said men's basketball coach Gene Cross decided his resignation would be the best move for the struggling team. The University of Toledo said men's basketball coach Gene Cross decided his resignation would be the best move for the struggling team.
JEREMY WADSWORTH / THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo

The Rockets finished 4-28 this season - the worst in school history - and were 11-53 in two seasons under Cross.

"We were all concerned about the results of this year," said Olivia Summons, chairman of UT's board of trustees. "But we understood this was a young team. I understand he's made this decision, and we hope to move on."

Under the terms of his resignation, Cross will be paid his normal biweekly salary of $10,769.23 until Aug. 1, O'Brien said.

O'Brien said Cross would receive no additional compensation.

Under coach Gene Cross, the University of Toledo Rockets finished 4-28 this season — the worst in school history — and were 11-53 in two seasons. Under coach Gene Cross, the University of Toledo Rockets finished 4-28 this season — the worst in school history — and were 11-53 in two seasons.
JETTA FRASER Enlarge

Cross signed a five-year contract on April 11, 2008, that paid him an annual base salary of $280,000.

Cross, 38, also received $30,000 a year for taking part in a coach's show, speeches, and other appearances on behalf of the university.

He was hired by O'Brien to replace Stan Joplin, who was fired after the Rockets finished 11-19 during the 2007-08 season. UT won 19 games under Joplin in 2006-07.

"It's not something you want after a couple years, to go through another [coaching] search," O'Brien said. "However, I think this one's different. It's different because of the young players and the facilities."

Before coming to Toledo, Cross served as an assistant coach for 12 years at Illinois-Chicago, DePaul, Virginia, and Notre Dame.

"I appreciate the opportunity to have been the head men's basketball coach here at UT," Cross said in a statement released by the university.

"I enjoyed my time trying to change the lives of these young men. It is with mixed emotions that I have chosen to move on at this time to pursue other career opportunities."

Cross did not return several phone messages seeking additional comment. He was not available at his home in Sylvania Township, where there was no answer at the door.

UT athletic department spokesman Paul Helgren said Cross would hold a news conference at a later date.

Ms. Summons said she was told Wednesday that Cross may be leaving his post.

O'Brien said Cross' decision was reached as a result of several talks the pair had this week after Sunday's 72-54 loss at Buffalo in the opening round of Mid-American Conference tournament.

"Gene feels that this is the best thing for his career," O'Brien said.

"He's taking a step back and going to see what's out there. Gene's very connected. We all hope that Gene gets a job soon."

No players were present at the news conference because of the university's spring break.

Mr. Helgren said the university would make them available to the media early next week when they return to campus.

The news of Cross' resignation came as a shock to at least one coach in the MAC yesterday.

"I don't think anyone [in the conference] saw this coming," said a men's basketball coach in the MAC on the condition of anonymity.

Two UT trustees who spoke with The Blade indicated the board may become more involved in the hiring of UT's next men's coach.

Trustee Richard McQuade, Jr., said he would make his opinions known to UT President Lloyd Jacobs and other administrators regarding the type of coach he wants.

"This time we need to find a coach who has demonstrated head-coaching ability, who knows the game, and who has demonstrated that he knows how to recruit," Mr. McQuade said. "I am impressed Mike O'Brien was able to get Tricia Cullop here to coach the women's team. That's the kind of person we should pursue, someone who has demonstrated their ability to win as a head coach.

"We ought to be able to attract that kind of talent to the University of Toledo."

Cullop, who guided the UT women's team to a Mid-American Conference West Division title in just her second season, came to the Rockets after going 123-110 in eight seasons as the coach at the University of Evansville (Ind.).

Ms. Summons said it's too early to know how much of an extended role - if any - the UT board will have in the next coaching search. But she also said the board has "faith in [O'Brien's] decision-making process."

O'Brien said a national search was already under way but added that it was too early to set any kind of timetable for when the next coach will be hired.

"This is a good job," he said. "This is going to attract a lot of candidates."

Contact Zach Silka at:

zsilka@theblade.com

or 419-724-6084.



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