USC fires baseball coach Chad Kreuter

Pat Haden, USC’s athletic director for less than seven days, made his first major coaching change Monday, firing baseball coach Chad Kreuter.

Frank Cruz, a volunteer assistant the last two seasons after 12 years as coach at Loyola Marymount, will serve as interim coach for the 2011 season.

USC has won 12 College World Series titles, more than any other school. But the Trojans have not participated in the NCAA tournament since 2005.

“On my first day on the job at USC last week, I said one of my goals was to return the USC baseball program to national prominence,” Haden said in a statement released by the school. “We need to get back to our championship ways.”

Kreuter, a former major league player who spent part of his career with the Dodgers, compiled a 111-117 record in four seasons. USC was 28-32 overall and 7-20 in the Pacific 10 Conference last season, finishing in last place.

USC has changed coaches in three major men’s sports in the last 14 months, but Kreuter is the first to be dismissed from his job. In June 2009, Kevin O’Neill replaced Tim Floyd as basketball coach after Floyd resigned. Lane Kiffin replaced Pete Carroll as football coach in January after Carroll left to become coach of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.

Before officially taking his new post, Haden told reporters in July that he would spend time assessing all athletic department personnel. Pressure to replace Kreuter had been building since the end of the baseball season in May, but no action was taken as former athletic director Mike Garrett and other administrators awaited then-impending NCAA sanctions related mainly to the football and men’s basketball programs.

Garrett hired Kreuter in June 2006, when Mike Gillespie announced that he was retiring after 20 seasons. Gillespie, Kreuter’s father-in-law, guided the Trojans to 15 postseason appearances, four trips to the College World Series and the 1998 national championship. Gillespie has since said that he was fired by Garrett.

Gillespie recently completed his third season as coach at UC Irvine, where he has led the Anteaters to three consecutive NCAA regionals and one super regional.

Kreuter, who played at Pepperdine, served as USC’s director of baseball operations in 2005. He was managing a minor league team in the Class-A California League when he was hired to replace Gillespie, whose team was 25-33 in 2006, a year after the Trojans came within one super regional victory of advancing to the College World Series.

Cruz was a USC assistant on Gillespie’s staff from 1993 to 1996, then took over at Loyola Marymount, where he had a record of 329-356-3.

“I want this program to succeed in every way possible,” Cruz said in USC’s statement. “I will get to work immediately to continue to improve our program and I appreciate the opportunity given to me to do that.”

USC is expected to look outside its current staff for a permanent replacement, although Haden said Cruz would be among the candidates. Oregon Coach George Horton, UCLA Coach John Savage, Cal State Fullerton Coach Dave Serrano and University of San Diego Coach Rich Hill probably will be contacted to gauge interest.