Lasting Legacy – Remembering Coach Tom Cross

Back in 2016, the CSCCa Monthly staff had the honor of speaking with Coach Tom Cross, a Legend in the Field of Strength & Conditioning. Though the conversation was not long, it was one to remember, and a few things about his character became clear immediately.

He was an incredibly kind-hearted man, who brought a smile to your face with his gentle and genuine demeanor. He was generous with his time, and spoke his mind with quiet confidence. He had a sincere passion for the field of strength and conditioning, and for the athletes who were entrusted to his care.

All of this rang through in one fifteen-minute conversation, speaking with an editor who he had never met face-to-face as if they were old friends. How much greater then must his impact be on the lives of those who knew him best, and had the honor of working along side him.

Here, a few of those blessed individuals share their thoughts on the life and legacy of the late, great Tom Cross.

It is impossible to fully capture the impact my Grandpa (Coach Cross) had on not only myself but many others in the coaching profession. Growing up it was always very clear that Coach Cross had a passion for coaching strength and conditioning. Anytime we were together, Grandpa always wanted to get to a weight room to work with my brothers and I, no matter our age. 

Coach Cross was also very passionate about his family, while my brothers and I were growing up he’d come out all fall to our hometown to watch us play football, spend time together, and of course volunteer in the high school weight room for the football team. It was during this time that I’d learn so much about coaching and life from his wisdom. He had countless one liners and quotes that were not only witty and funny, they also had wisdom behind them, such as “I’ve never been so wet I didn’t get dry.”

Even while he was in his 80’s, his work ethic and passion were something to be admired. Coach Cross and I had many conversations about strength and conditioning training/coaching and all the positive effects it can have in and out of the weight room. It wasn’t until I went to college and was around college athletics regularly that I fully realized the type of impact he’s had on so many coaches. 

Ever since I became involved in college athletics, as a player or coach, I’ve had so many people come up to me and say something very positive about the impact Coach Cross had on them. I am incredibly blessed for all the good years I was able to have with my Grandpa. One of Coach Cross’ own favorite quotes; “I hope that where I travel, they will say of me one day that it somehow made a difference that I passed along this way” describes him greatly. Because of his love of his family, his fellow coaches and strength and conditioning, he has made me and countless others better. 

Blake Abbott, MS, SCCC, USAW

Director of S&C, Piedmont High School

I first met Coach Tom Cross in August 1966 reporting for two-a-day preseason football practice at Panhandle A & M College. As a 5’11” 180 lb. lineman needless to say Coach was not too impressed with me and in typical Coach Cross style he let me know that I “had a lot of work to do!” At that time, I gave no thought that this man would influence my thought process and coaching style for the next seven decades.

Coach was an innovator. He was not afraid to try new ideas and implement them in a way to make his athletes better. He knew that the magic bullet, the secret sauce was commitment, consistency and hard work and applying a new or different idea to those core principles might produce better athletes and if it didn’t work try a new approach. He was demanding of his players, always chasing perfection, “perfect is close enough,” always pushing you to stretch your limits, yet in a way that you knew he cared about you as a person. He wasn’t afraid to share his faith with you, never in a demeaning way, you just knew that he had great faith in his Creator and that was his anchor.

He taught me a great deal about handling athletes, strength & conditioning, about the fact that you can be a great coach wherever you are regardless the level. He has been recognized by this organization as a Legend and as a Master in our field, at a small private faith based university. He always said, “all that glitters isn’t gold.” 

He was humble, didn’t take himself too seriously, and again, he put his faith in someone greater than he.

I was so blessed that he was placed in my life.

 – Tom Ward, M.Ed., SCCC, AWSPC

46-Year Coaching Veteran

Coach, mentor, friend, adopted grandpa… it’s how I describe Coach Cross. I’m sure many of you have that same description of him. My grandpa passed away in junior high and I never knew my other grandpa because he passed away when my dad was 13. Little did I know going to college I would gain another grandfather figure.

When I first met Coach Cross I was a mediocre athlete.  After seeing me squat he knew he could help me with my knee pain and within two years he had me hitting the ball out of the park!  From that point on I fell in love with the weight room. Coach showed me how to do things right and light. There would be times when it would be just us in the weight room but he was willing to work with me because he knew I was coachable and wanted to improve. 

I had no idea how precious that time was back then – both his time he sacrificed, as well as the time I got from him teaching me all the tips and tricks of weightlifting. Coach Cross changed my life and helped me find my passion for helping athletes improve themselves in the weight room, on the field, and in various life situations. 

We hit it off because of our strong work ethic. We both grew up on a farm. We love peanut butter, working out and coaching. Not only did we share these same things, we also had a passion for helping others. He taught me so much about strength and conditioning, how to coach, how to be tough and how to “use my big girl voice.”

It takes a lot to build my confidence but with every presentation at local and national weightlifting meets and conferences, demonstrating and teaching Olympic lifting at certification courses we taught he helped build my confidence.  He helped me build my belief so that I can help others build confidence in their abilities in the weight room too.  

Coach and June would always write encouraging notes with scriptures on them, which I appreciated because I was more than just an athlete.  I know he would do this for others too and would write them on this “You Look Like a Winner” card.   

It’s hard to sum up someone’s life who was 91 and coached for over 50 years. I was honored to be one of those people that he coached and mentored. He taught me so much. He will be missed, but he has left a legacy for those of us who have learned from him and will continue what he started.  Now he can be with his son Curt, the rest of his family and getting some awesome Harper Hugs. 

Thanks for making such a positive impact on me Coach!  

– Whitney Rodden, M.Ed., MSCC, USAW

Head S&C Coach, MidAmerica Nazarene University


For more information about the life and career of Coach Cross, and all of his contributions to the field of strength and conditioning, please click here.


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