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End of an era
Rusty Cram resigns after 16 seasons as coach of Lady Eagles
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Georgia Southern women's basketball coach Rusty Cram, right, and senior guard Janay Wilson talk during a Jan. 21 game against Western Carolina. Cram resigned Monday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    Rusty Cram, who resigned Monday after 21 years with Georgia Southern’s women’s basketball program, including the past 16 seasons as the Lady Eagles’ head coach, talked with the Statesboro Herald late Tuesday night about what’s next for him, his wife, Jana, and their sons, Scott and Ryan.
    Cram, GSU’s winningest head coach (239-230 record), met with GSU Athletics Director Sam Baker and GSU Associate Athletics Director/Senior Woman Administrator Cathy Beene late Monday afternoon “when they called me into a meeting,” Cram said.
    Cram, a two-time Southern Conference Coach of the Year, guided GSU to two regular-season titles and eight 15-win seasons, including two 20-win seasons. But his Lady Eagles finished this season with an 8-22 overall record, 4-16 in the SoCon. It was Cram’s seventh losing season and his worst record. The Lady Eagles lost, 61-56 in overtime, to Western Carolina on Friday in the first round of the SoCon Tournament in Asheville, N.C.
    Cram was an assistant under head coach Drema Greer for five seasons before being hired as head coach in 1996.
    “This business, you know when you get into it that it’s a very high-risk business,” Cram said. “It’s not if it’s going to happen for most college coaches, it’s when. Sometimes it sneaks up a little sooner than you hoped or expected. But I think the way we ran our program, anyone who knows us, it certainly was about Xs and Os because you have to win. And I’m probably the biggest competitor you’ll ever come across. I’m going to compete if we’re playing tiddlywinks or flipping a coin. I want to win.
    “We just feel like our program has always evolved around the athletes first. And that’s the way we tried to run it our whole time. It wasn’t a profession. It was a lifestyle for us. The support from my family, certainly my wife, our friends and the fans in Statesboro, it was a family type of environment. (We) just tried to be there for the kids so they can get their degree, get their priorities right in life, and those priorities will carry them the rest of their life. Get that degree and just try to help them on into adulthood. Maybe be there for them where a lot of coaches aren’t in some personal things that go on in their lives, whether it be family or whatever. It was just more that personal touch I felt like, and our staff did a good job with that throughout the years.”
    Cram will not remain at GSU in another capacity.
    “That wasn’t offered,” Cram said. “Right now, it’s still kind of a shock to us, my wife and I. We’re still going through that process of getting up in the morning and putting our pants on one leg at a time, and seeing where it leads. We don’t know at this point. It’s been 30 years since anything like this has ever happened. We don’t know. It’s just unexpected. We’re just trying to weigh it out, weigh our options.
    “We’re the type that we feel like we’re where the good Lord put us, and there’s something out there for us. We certainly want to wish whoever comes in here luck. And the girls we’re leaving. That’s always tough. We leave them with a ‘do well’ wish that they are successful and things go their way.”
    Cram said he and his wife have not decided if they will remain in Statesboro.
    “Georgia Southern has been our family’s life now for the last 22 years,” Cram said. “Our kids have grown up here, our two boys, so it’s not like it’s just walking away from a job. It’s walking away from a life that you built in the community. We’ve built a lot of great friends and relationships.”
    GSU’s Baker said Cram’s departure will not be an easy process.
    “I think it was mutual,” Baker said Tuesday afternoon of Cram’s departure, which GSU announced in a news release Monday night. “Rusty and I talked, and he just felt that the time was right for a new direction in the program, and we honored that wish. Rusty’s done a great job for us throughout the years. In fact, when I first got here back in 1996, he was the first head coach I ever hired.
    "He had 16 years as a head coach. I think it was the time, I think he felt, for some new leadership.
     “It takes a lot of work and a lot out of an individual to coach,” Baker continued. “I think the student-athletes of five years ago are different than the ones today, and sometimes, no matter what sport it is, sometimes, for some reason, coaches don’t connect with a group, no matter what sport it is. I think just all that, over time, it just wears on you. It’s tough. Coaching is a tough profession, and a lot of miles recruiting, a lot of hours, a lot of time away from your family. I think when things aren’t going well it’s just really difficult.
    “I don’t think people have a true appreciation. They see coaches on game day, whether it’s football, basketball or whatever, and the glamour and the pageantry of everything. But there’s a lot of hours that go into recruiting and into looking at film and working with the team at practices and time away from your family. And it’s a tough profession. I think at times it can wear on you to the point where, when you’re not winning that hey, there are things out there in life beyond coaching that I can do and maybe get away from all this internal and external pressure that you have in this business.
    “I think it had been a tough year. I think it had been a tough couple of years. I think it just felt probably right to him at this time to step away from it all.”
    Baker said GSU has begun a national search for Cram’s replacement.
    “We’re going to try to find an individual to come in and pick up the program, and certainly we want to move it beyond being a 10th-place team in the league,” Baker said. “We feel it can be a very viable program to contend for championships. We’re going to try and find an individual to come in and build on what Rusty has done all of these many years, and get our program back to a championship-caliber program.
    “Rusty’s a great individual. He certainly did an outstanding job for Georgia Southern and we all wish him well. He’s done a lot of things beyond coaching in the program. He’s always been one of the leaders in the coaching staff, when new people came in, of always being there. He’s just a good person.”