When Talladega went looking for a new basketball coach in hopes to restore their basketball program to the national success it experienced from 2008-2010, it didn’t just get the best coach. The Tornadoes got the very person who delivered Talladega its first National Championship in 2009 and Cross’s 2015 team was crowned HBCU Mid-Major National Champions. Since returning to Dega in 2012 for his second stint, Cross has turned Talladega into a NAIA juggernaut as they have been ranked in the Top 25 of the NAIA Division I Men's Basketball Poll for 47 consecutive polls, the third longest active streak in the nation trailing only behind NAIA traditional powerhouses Georgetown (54-straight) and Pikeville (59-straight) while finishing the season ranked in the Top 10 nationally a record three straight seasons from 2013-2016. Furthermore, from 2013-2017 Matt Cross has guided Talladega College to four consecutive trips to the NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Tournament in Kansas City, and in 2015, Cross led Talladega College to the Final Four of the NAIA National Tournament snapping a 33 year absence from the last appearance made by an HBCU in the NAIA Final Four, Hampton in 1982 who’s President, Dr. William R. Harvey is a Talladega Alum.
Matt Cross, a man of vision who has a proven record of championship success, reunited with Talladega President Dr. Billy C Hawkins for a third occasion. Hawkins gave Cross his first head coaching opportunity at Texas College distinguishing the then 23-year-old as the youngest head basketball coach at any college level during the 2007-2008 college basketball season. After winning the 2008 Red River Conference Championship, still the only NAIA championship in Men’s Basketball History at Texas College, Hawkins brought Cross with him to Talladega College and made the 24 year old coach the youngest athletics director ever at any college level as Cross was given the task to help Hawkins reinstate athletics to an institution that disbanded sports a decade earlier. In remarkable fashion, the Texas College connection shocked the college sports landscape as Talladega College became the very first “start-up” program to win a National Championship in their first season throughout college sports history.
The 2015 Dr. Cavil HBCU Mid-Major National Coach of the Year and a 2014 Finalist for the Don Meyer National Basketball Coach of the year, Matt Cross has a resume that is unquestionably one of the most impressive amongst all young coaches in the profession. Few in any sport have ever achieved the levels of success as a head coach in their twenties. Cross currently is the All-Time Winningest Coach in Lamar State College – Port Arthur history by percentage as well as the All-Time Winningest Coach by in Talladega College history.
Cross, now 33, has a long and striking list of accomplishments in an unimaginable start to a coaching career as he became the youngest head coach to ever win a collegiate National Championship while 25 years old. Cross has been a finalist for several NCAA Division I jobs including Hampton ’09, Lamar ’11, New Orleans ’11 while being considered by Grambling ’08. The only coach from a small college to defeat five NCAA Division I programs in a single season, Cross’s up-tempo style, creative multiple defensive attack, strong work ethic and family atmosphere has restored Talladega back to national prominence, where the foundation has been set to yield long-term success for the Tornadoes.
It’s no coincidence while being at the helm of Texas College, Lamar State College, and Talladega College; Cross won a regular season conference championship at all three schools. In nine seasons as a head Coach Cross has collected nine championships comprised of five regular-season conference championships, three conference tournament championships, and one National Championship. During this stretch, Cross has compiled a 244-91 overall record, a 73% career winning percentage. In competition versus bigger programs, Cross’s squads have always been able to rise to the occasion as he has a strong 14-6 record including a 7-4 slate vs. NCAA Division I programs and a 7-2 record vs. NCAA Division II programs.
Postseason success is commonplace in Cross’s programs having guided his teams to three separate National Tournaments (NJCAA, NAIA, USCAA) while winning four Postseason tournaments. He has a postseason record that stands at an outstanding 22-9 mark, a 72% career postseason percentage. Furthermore, with titles on the line and pressure at its highest Cross’s teams WIN as Cross possesses a spectacular 9-1 (90%) record in Championship contests.
Simply put, Cross has achieved resounding success as a head coach and has earned a reputation as a great tactician, leader, motivator and a premier recruiter. Those qualities have sparked impressive turnarounds at every stop of his career. Cross’s persistent and relentless approach combined with his disciplined leadership are the reasons his teams are known for exhibiting tenacity, spirit, and determination, often overcoming adversity to achieve victory. Cross has established a standard of excellence within his programs, both on and off the court that has continually allowed his teams to reach unprecedented heights each season. Never was this more evident than during the 2015 season as Cross orchestrated what could be considered the best season in Talladega history or at the very least equal to his Tornadoes’ 2008-2009 campaign. Cross guided the 2015 Tornadoes to a 32-5 record; the most wins in school’s history while manufacturing a thrilling March run that saw his Tornadoes capture back to back Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Tournament Championships on the campus of Xavier University of Louisiana. Furthermore, for the first time in school's history, Talladega made three consecutive appearances at the NAIA National Tournament in Kansas City where they advanced all the way to the the NAIA “Fab Four” topping a “Sweet 16” run in 2014 and again advancing to the “Sweet 16” in 2016. Prior to these three consecutive NAIA National Tourney appearances, Talladega had only made the NAIA National Tournament one other time in the school’s history. Along the way to their run in March, Cross’s Tornadoes won three consecutive Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Regular Season Crowns, winning the east in 2014 and Cross was named GCAC Coach of the Year in 2016 and 2015. The 2014 GCAC East Conference Championship marked the first Conference Championship in school’s history. In addition, Talladega won 21 games in a row and finished the 2015 regular season unanimously ranked #1 in the nation, in 2014 Cross garnered Talladega its first ever NAIA Top 25 ranking finishing the regular season ranked #6 while finishing the regular season #4 in 2016. Not only did Cross have his Tornadoes on top of the national polls, he had them on top of numerous statistical categories including leading the country in scoring margin in 2014 and 2016 as Cross’s squad consistently dominated their opponents.
After the record-setting seasons concluded, several of Cross’s players were awarded for their individual efforts; most noteworthy was standout senior guard Brandon “Snap” Peters who was named a first-team NAIA All-American for the second year in a row as well as being dubbed 2015 GCAC “Player of the Year” following his 2014 GCAC “Newcomer of the Year” award. Senior guard Shondel Stewart was also named a 2015 NAIA All-American highlighted by his back to back GCAC Tournament “MVP” awards as well as making the GCAC All-Conference First Team. Peters also garnered national media attention as footage of his multiple “between the legs in game dunks” went viral throughout the season and one dunk was even featured as the #1 play in ESPN SportsNation's Top Ten Plays which lead to Peters being named a finalist for the 2015 State Farm Insurance College Basketball’s Darkhorse Dunker Contest. Academically, the duo of Peters and Stewart were named to The President’s Honor Roll both with cumulative GPA’s of 3.5.
Before his return to Talladega, Cross spent three years as a head coach in the junior college ranks at Lamar State College – Port Arthur in Region XIV which is widely considered the toughest junior college region in the nation. While at Lamar State Cross was the architect behind building a junior college powerhouse. Upon his arrival in Port Arthur Cross inherited a program only six years old that just completed its first year of competition in NJCAA Division I. With no tradition, never a winning a season, no dorms, no cafeteria, limited resources, and one scholarship Cross over the next three years did what nobody thought was possible.
In just his first year Cross gave the Seahawks their first winning season in school history reaching the 20 win plateau while guiding the Seahawks to a second-place finish behind Juco power San Jacinto in Region XIV’s south division that earned them a bye in the school’s first trip to the Region XIV Postseason Tournament.
If Cross’s first campaign in Port Arthur didn’t turn heads, his second season had any unbelievers left believing in the young coach. In just his second season Cross’s Seahawks reached the pinnacle of junior college basketball punching their ticket to “HUTCH” – The NJCAA Division I National Tournament by way of winning America’s toughest junior college Regional Tournament defeating nationally ranked #9 Trinity Valley in the quarterfinals and knocking off national power #2 San Jacinto in the championship game. The upsets didn’t stop at the Regional Tournament, Cross’s Cinderella team would eliminate the number one ranked team in junior college Missouri State-West Plains during the National Tournament.
The quick turnaround in Port Arthur by Cross created a media frenzy in Southeast Texas’s Golden Triangle that was summed up by the longtime sports editor of the Port Arthur News Bob West, “Ever since Lamar State College – Port Arthur knocked off long-time power San Jacinto Junior College Wednesday night to qualify for the national JC tourney in Hutchinson, Kan., I’ve been trying to get a perspective on the magnitude of the accomplishment. Frankly, what Matt Cross and his players pulled off is so far off the charts I’m not sure there’s a good comparison. For a program that didn’t exist eight years ago, that didn’t move out of the team category until three years ago, that operates with limited resources and that competes in one of the nation’s toughest JC conferences, to get to Hutchinson so fast may even be more remarkable than Butler reaching the NCAA championship game last season. The youthful Cross deserves the lion’s share of the credit for LSC-PA’s success with his recruiting, discipline, and coaching job that has his stock soaring.” Larry Cooper, CEO of The Premier Sports Network added, “Matt Cross’s feat in guiding his Seahawks into the 2011 NJCAA National Tournament by winning the Region 14 Conference Tournament Championship is the most improbable run in JUCO sports history.”
With Cross, year three in Port Arthur was more of the same as he became the first coach in over a decade in Region XIV to win the regular season conference championship after winning the regional tournament the year before. The Texas Eastern Regular Season Conference Championship was yet another first-time feat in Seahawks history. Lamar State’s basketball program is now over a decade old and the three-year stretch Cross directed the program from 2010-2012 is the only championship success in the school’s history.
Success and history were also made off the court during Cross’s tenure as the Seahawks saw their first ever NCAA Division I signee, Ahyaro Phillips ink a scholarship with The University of Southern Mississippi. Cross who has graduated 85 percent of his players that complete their eligibility in his career oversaw a graduation success rate of 83 percent while at Lamar State as 10 of his 12 sophomores received their associate degree, seven of which signed NCAA Division I scholarships and all 12 signed scholarships to play at the four-year level.
The new winning tradition and “Seahawk” brand Cross developed on the Seawall in Port Arthur now plays a vibrant role in the communities of Southeast Texas’s Golden Triangle. PA News Sports Editor Bob West said, “One of Matt Cross’s legacies as basketball coach at Lamar State College-Port Arthur will be the attention he generated for the program by elevating the Seahawks from punching bag to a junior college basketball powerhouse.” Before Lamar State, Cross followed his President Dr. Billy C. Hawkins from Texas College to Talladega College as the Director of Athletics and Head Men's Basketball Coach. They had a big goal in mind: to win a National Championship. In their very first year at Talladega, they got just what they hoped for. March 7, 2009, will be forever remembered in Talladega College history as the Tornadoes in their very first year of athletics in nearly a decade, defeated Rochester College (MI) 45-31 in Pittsburg, PA to win the 2009 USCAA Division I Small College National Championship.
Coach Cross led his 2008-2009 Tornadoes to a storybook season and the small college national championship was the ultimate accomplishment. This marked the first time in college basketball history for a first-year program to claim a national title. Along the way to the magical triumph, the Tornadoes achieved another college basketball milestone by defeating five NCAA Division I programs in a single season. Talladega College finished the season with a 25-7 record, the most wins in the school's history. The Tornadoes ended their season on a 12 game winning streak and ranked #1 in the USCAA coaches' poll.
Prior to Talladega College, Coach Cross immediately lit fire into a struggling program at Texas College. The Steers instantly became winners as Cross led his Steers to a school record 21 wins in 2008, a NAIA Division I national best 15- game win improvement from the previous season, and the first winning season in three years. Furthermore, Coach Cross guided Texas College to two historical wins over Grambling State University, which marked the first time the school had ever defeated a NCAA Division I opponent. The victories over Grambling gave Texas College instant national recognition and helped the Steers climb to as high as #17 nationally, the highest national ranking ever obtained by Texas College. In addition, Cross steered his team to a to a 12-4 mark in league play which earned Texas College a share of the Red River Athletic Conference Regular Season Crown for yet another first in the school's history. Cross’ team advanced to the RRAC conference tournament championship game where they fell short to Langston University. Cross also saw four of his Steers named to the 2008 RRAC All-Conference Team, and produced the Steers first ever Conference MVP and first ever NAIA All-American in Czyz Bennett.
Matt Cross is no stranger to helping turn around a basketball program and making history in the process. Prior to Texas College, he spent three seasons as an assistant coach on the NCAA Division II level in the Gulf South Conference at the University of Arkansas-Monticello. In three years at UAM, Cross was part of several first-time achievements by the Boll Weevils including obtaining a national ranking, defeating three NCAA Division I programs, and making the NCAA tournament where they reached the "SWEET 16."
Cross began his coaching career as the Assistant Varsity Boys Basketball Coach and Head Junior High Boys Basketball Coach at Christian Life Academy in Baton Rouge, LA, where he helped Coach Todd Foster earn the Crusaders a berth into the 2003 LHSAA Class AA State Playoffs where they advanced to the regional round.
A native of Shreveport, Louisiana, he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Physical Education with a minor in History from the University of Arkansas at Monticello in 2005.