Missouri had tried to bring DeMontie Cross home before.
Cross, who was hired Dec. 18 as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator, graduated from MU in 1997 as the second-leading tackler in program history with 415 stops. He then coached outside linebackers for two seasons in 1998-99 before embarking on a coaching career that took him to Sam Houston State, Iowa State, the Buffalo Bills, Wisconsin, Kansas and eventually TCU.
Finally, after serving as the Horned Frogs’ co-defensive coordinator with Chad Glasgow last season, Cross is home again.
“For what the university has meant to me as a student-athlete and my overall growth and development, I knew that I wanted to have an opportunity to come back and contribute in some form or fashion …” said Cross, a St. Louis native and Hazelwood East graduate. “I felt, why not go back home and try to take a program that’s meant so much to me and try to get it back on top and keep it there?”
Cross also has a long history with Missouri football coach Barry Odom, who was hired as Gary Pinkel’s successor Dec. 3. Odom and Cross played together for the Tigers in 1996 and Cross coached Odom a bit after graduating and served as something of a mentor early in Odom’s coaching career. Working together was always something Odom and Cross envisioned, but the marriage seemed star-crossed.
“There was always a good, strong interest in getting together and working together,” said Cross, who eventually hopes to become a head coach. “The timing just kind of worked out for it to happen this year.”
Odom tried to hire Cross at Memphis on more than one occasion and also tried to lure him to Missouri last year after returning as Pinkel’s defensive coordinator.
“Things were obviously going really well at TCU at the time and Coach (Gary) Patterson had just appointed me co-coordinator with Coach (Chad) Glasgow at the time, so it was just a situation where the timing wasn’t right,” Cross said. “Every time Missouri had an opening, I was always interested.”
Cross, whose recruiting background is in Texas with an emphasis on Houston, said his background is primarily in a 4-3 scheme, but he picked up a few things from Patterson about the 4-2-5 and “isn’t scared of” a 3-4. He needs more time to get a handle on the Tigers’ returning personnel, but plans to tailor a defense to the strength of those players from there building off the success of Odom’s defense last season.
Calling the SEC “the conference that everybody wants to get to,” Cross said he’s spoken with a few players by phone after his hiring and met several more around the Mizzou Athletics Training Complex last week.
“It was exciting for me to have some of those guys be excited to talk to me,” he said. “I was a little unsure, not having met them face to face. … I know (rising junior defensive end) Charles Harris. He was the one that I talked to on the phone and that I met in person. He’s the one that I identify the most with, but I look forward to working with them all.”
If Cross had any doubt about his decision, it was erased by the response to his hiring. He said he was pleasantly surprised and overwhelmed by the “unreal” response in phone calls and texts from former coaches, teammates and fans.
“It was a really good feeling and kind of humbling to know that 20 years ago, once the season starts, that it’s all come full circle,” Cross said. “To have an opportunity to come back in a leadership role, is a nice gesture and I’m really excited.”