More than 35 years after graduating from St. Monica Catholic High School, Frank Cruz is back as its athletic director following an abrupt ending to a high-profile job.

St. Monica officials touted Cruz’s coaching experience in the high school, college and national ranks, as well as his leadership skills and strong alumni connections after selecting him to fill the void left by his predecessor, Rick Bruce.

“It’s a real blessing for us that he’d take a job like this,” school president Thom Gasper said of Cruz. “He approaches things strategically, having been at that higher level, and he sees where things are heading.”

Cruz was hired to oversee sports for all grades at the private K-12 school, a departure from previous leadership structures.

He arrives at St. Monica following an undignified departure from his post as the head baseball coach at USC, which fired him in 2013 after investigating NCAA rules violations in the program.

Cruz “knowingly” broke rules that limit the number of hours student-athletes can spend on staff-supervised activities, USC athletic director Pat Haden said in a press release at the time.

Cruz declined to comment on the violations and the end of his tenure at the Los Angeles-based university, saying he wanted to keep the focus on St. Monica’s students and athletic programs.

Gasper said St. Monica officials contacted the USC athletics department as they vetted candidates for the administrative vacancy.

“Pat Haden couldn’t say enough good things about him,” Gasper said. “He had great things to say about Frank in this role. I feel good about this hire.”

Cruz already had decades of experience coaching in Southern California and beyond when he took the helm of the USC baseball program, for which he had previously worked as an assistant and volunteer assistant.

He was coach of Loyola Marymount’s baseball team for a dozen seasons starting in 1997, leading the program to three consecutive West Coast Conference titles and three NCAA Regionals appearances in a row. He earned coach of the year honors three times and served a term on the NCAA baseball rules committee.

Cruz has also coached at the national level, leading Team USA to the gold medal in 2004 at the FISU World University Championships.

Cruz, a 1977 graduate of St. Monica, attended Santa Monica College before transferring to Pepperdine, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He started coaching baseball at Los Angeles-University, where he taught health and physical education.

“He brings enormous qualities to the table,” Gasper said of Cruz, who was inducted into St. Monica’s athletic hall of fame in 2012. “He’s been a successful coach for a number of years in high school and college and national settings. We’re really fortunate that he knows how coaches think, that he knows best practices in athletics. He’s an alum, too, so he’s connected to our alumni and people on the Westside.”

Gasper said he was impressed by Cruz’s leadership during St. Monica’s first football game of the season. He also said a parent praised Cruz for how he handled an injury at a recent junior varsity football game on the road.

“He’s a class act and knows what to do in those moments,” Gasper said. “That experience, you can’t buy.”

Cruz, who is also serving as head coach of the St. Monica girls golf team, said he hopes to strengthen the relationships between sports programs at the elementary, middle and high school levels. Gasper noted that the school has had success with K-12 administration in other departments.

“We’re trying to get more continuity and develop a system where the kids know a little bit about the system,” Cruz said. “We want to make it feel like one and keep them interested in staying at St. Monica through high school.”

jeff@www.smdp.com

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