Harding High athletics director Bryant Bailey said his school combed through more than 60 applicants for its vacant head football coaching job before settling on 36-year-old Robert Cross, who has never been a head coach before.
"Overall," Bailey said, "he had the best interview. He has experience and he's a leader of men."
Cross played defensive back at Norfolk State before graduating in 2007 with a degree in health/physical education and exercise science. After college, he was an assistant at four high schools, including Waxhaw Cuthbertson and Parkwood in Union County. Cross most recently was an assistant at J.C. Smith.
Cross was on campus at Harding Thursday and spent time with returning running back/linebacker Quavaris Crouch, the nation's top recruit in the class of 2019.
"He's a really humble kid," Cross said. "He's a special young man, a man of his faith who loves the Lord. He understands the weight on his shoulders, and he's handling it well from what I can see. I look forward to growing that relationship. He's all in for the betterment of Harding football."
As coach, Cross -- married with two young boys -- replaces Sam Greiner, who led the Rams to the 2017 N.C. 4A state championship. It was Harding's first state championship in 64 years.
Greiner left Harding to take the head football job at Hickory RIdge High School in Harrisburg in March.
At Harding, Greiner took a team that was 1-10 his first season in 2015 and took it to the playoffs one year later. Harding finished 5-7 in 2016 and made the playoffs for the first time in six years.
In 2017, Harding finished 14-1 and won its first state championship since 1953.
Cross said his goal is to continue Harding's success -- and not for the Rams to return to their previous status before Greiner as a perennial loser.
With many key players back, including Crouch, Cross said he doesn't plan to change the Rams' offensive and defensive systems much.
"Football is football," he said. "One thing I want to do is develop these young men from the inside-out. I don't worry about taking over a state championship team or having the No. 1 player in the country. I'll be myself and teach young people football and we'll the train back up and moving."