Since the Athens Regional is coming up for the Gym Dogs on Saturday, I have been thinking about possible replacements for Jay Clark should the Red and Black see another gymnastics season end in disaster. (Actually, I’m pretty much done with Coach Clark, even if the Red and Black make it out of the regional round this year.)
Although I believe a program of Georgia’s caliber is able to insist upon a gymnastics coach with prior head coaching experience, I recognize the good point made by Skeptic99 that some of the sport’s most successful collegiate coaches came to their current jobs from assistant positions. Accordingly, Skeptic99 suggested several top assistant coaches who might make suitable replacements for Coach Clark. Here, in alphabetical order, are the best candidates on the list Skeptic99 compiled:
- Current Post: Assistant Coach, Florida Gators (2007-present)
- Current Team Standing: No. 1 national ranking; No. 1 seed, Denver Regional
- Alma Mater: Romanian National School of Coaching (Class of 1996)
- Career Honors: Region Assistant Coach of the Year (2003, 2007); National Assistant Coach of the Year (2003)
- Why We Should Hire Him: In six years at Nebraska and five at Florida, he has done just about everything at two top-tier collegiate gymnastics programs: Coach Burde was in charge of the floor exercise in Lincoln, he has taught uneven bars and handled recruiting since arriving in Gainesville, and he has been responsible for conditioning and the vault at both American collegiate coaching stops. His tenure with Nebraska saw the Cornhuskers make four Super Six finals, and his arrival in the Sunshine State to coach the bars was followed by a nine-week run for the Gators as the nation’s top team in that event. That trend continued in subsequent seasons, and, as the Orange and Blue vault coach this year, he has caused Florida to become the nation’s top vault team. In some respects, Coach Burde appears to be the power behind Rhonda Faehn’s throne, as she failed to guide the Gators to an SEC championship in four years without him, but, with Coach Burde’s help, Coach Faehn has won two conference titles in five years.
- Why We Shouldn’t Hire Him: Um, I don’t know . . . he’s Romanian, so he won’t speak with a Southern accent? Honestly, I can’t come up with a reason not to hire him. The programs he coaches become fixtures in the Super Six, the events he oversees are the ones in which his gymnasts are ranked No. 1, he is the top assistant for one of our biggest rivals, and he probably became acquainted with our athletic director while the two worked in the same athletic department. If we’re going to give an assistant coach a shot to fill Suzanne Yoculan’s high-heeled shoes (figuratively, of course), Coach Burde is our guy.
- Current Post: Associate Head Coach, Nebraska Cornhuskers (2003-present)
- Current Team Standing: No. 10 national ranking; No. 2 seed, Corvallis Regional
- Alma Mater: Arizona State (Class of 1995)
- Career Honors: Region Assistant Coach of the Year (1999, 2002); National Assistant Coach of the Year (2007)
- Why We Should Hire Her: As a three-time all-conference gymnast for the Arizona St. Sun Devils, Coach Durante carded five career 10.0s; as a Cornhusker assistant in 2003, she helped guide Richelle Simpson to a pair of perfect scores in a single meet. Her steady rise, from Washington to Nebraska in 2003, from assistant coach to associate head coach in 2006, from two-time region assistant coach of the year to national assistant coach of the year in 2007, suggests a career arc that is bound for a head coaching post.
- Why We Shouldn’t Hire Her: She has no ties either to the South or to the SEC, having come from Oklahoma, gone to school in Arizona, and coached in Washington and Nebraska. Coach Durante’s position responsibility has been limited to teaching the balance beam and overseeing floor choreography at both of her collegiate coaching stops. These are relatively minor quibbles, to be sure, but, given the high standards Coach Yoculan set for this program, I wouldn’t pick Coach Durante over Coach Burde.
- Current Post: Assistant Coach, Oklahoma Sooners (2006-present)
- Current Team Standing: No. 5 national ranking; No. 1 seed, Norman Regional
- Alma Mater: None noted in his biography
- Career Honors: Region Assistant Coach of the Year (2006, 2010); National Assistant Coach of the Year (2010)
- Why We Should Hire Him: He has connections both to our region and to our conference: Coach Haley is a San Antonio native who has worked with the Alabama Crimson Tide (as a volunteer assistant and club coach) and the Kentucky Wildcats (where he took NACGC Central Region assistant coach of the year honors). Locally, he headed up the Level 4 Elite program at the Gwinnett Gymnastics Center in 2002 and 2003. He has worked for Sarah Patterson and K.J. Kindler, in addition to heading up a club program in the Peach State.
- Why We Shouldn’t Hire Him: I find it mildly disconcerting that nothing I have read about Coach Haley suggests that he is a college graduate; I know we’re not selecting Mercury astronauts here, but I’m inclined to believe that a college head coach ought to have a bachelor’s degree. Apart from that, though, Coach Haley is a strong candidate, and I would rank him a close second behind Coach Burde.
- Current Post: Assistant Coach, Illinois Fighting Illini (2006-present)
- Current Team Standing: No. 14 national ranking; No. 3 seed, Tuscaloosa Regional
- Alma Mater: Nebraska (Class of 2002)
- Career Honors: Region Assistant Coach of the Year (2008); National Assistant Coach of the Year (2009)
- Why We Should Hire Her: Coach Kruse has handled a variety of responsibilities as an assistant, from alumni relations to recruiting and from conditioning to choreography. Under her tutelage, the Illinois gymnasts have excelled in the floor exercise and on the vault, setting individual and team records in both events while capturing individual conference championships in each. In 2010, Allison Buckley became the school’s first vault all-American.
- Why We Shouldn’t Hire Her: Coach Kruse has no ties to this part of the country; she was born in Arizona, went to school in Nebraska, and coached in Nebraska and Illinois. The Illini may be a budding power in the Big Ten, but they aren’t there yet, and a longer track record is warranted. While Coach Kruse shows considerable promise as a coach, she is a little young to be offered such a prestigious position.
- Current Post: Assistant Head Coach, UCLA Bruins (2003-present)
- Current Team Standing: No. 6 national ranking; No. 1 seed, Athens Regional
- Alma Mater: UCLA (Class of 1991)
- Career Honors: Region Assistant Coach of the Year (2010); National Assistant Coach of the Year (2004)
- Why We Should Hire Him: He has head coaching experience, having served as acting head coach for UCLA when the Bruins took on Utah in Salt Lake City and handed the Red Rocks their first home gymnastics loss in 23 years. (No, that is not a typographical error; Coach Waller’s team snapped the longest home winning streak for any sport in NCAA history.) A U.S. Olympian and 2003 inductee into the American Gymnastics Hall of Fame, Coach Waller has rings, having competed on an NCAA men’s gymnastics championship team in 1987 and served as an assistant coach for three NCAA women’s gymnastics championship teams. Plus, he’ll be in the Classic City on Saturday, so all Greg McGarity will have to do to offer him the job is walk up to him on the floor of Stegeman Coliseum this weekend.
- Why We Shouldn’t Hire Him: Coach Waller is the assistant head coach at his alma mater, where he has served on the staff for nine years. His boss, Valorie Kondos Field, has been the head women’s gymnastics coach of the Bruins for over 20 years, and UCLA is one of the four historic powers in the sport; in the last 14 years, Georgia has won seven NCAA gymnastics championships and UCLA has won six. The Bruins, like the Gym Dogs, have had a bit of a down year this year, and the Red and Black have taken six of their last eight series meetings with UCLA. Since Coach Waller probably is next in line to the throne at the place he calls home, why would he leave Los Angeles for Athens? Since the Bruins have stumbled lately, should we run the risk that Coach Waller is Coach Clark with a better suntan? I wish him well, but this is not his dream job and he is not our best option.
My thanks go out to Skeptic99 for directing our attention to the promising crop of assistant coaches who may be ready to take the next step and become the head coach of the most storied women’s gymnastics program in the NCAA. As always, your thoughts upon the subject are welcome in the comments below.