For the third time in 8 years, the Gym Dogs are in need of a new head coach.
On Tuesday morning, Greg McGarity announced that Danna Durante would not be retained as head coach. In a press release that looked rather hastily-assembled following a spread of internet rumors on Monday night, McGarity said only, “We will move forward with a national search as quickly as possible to fill the head coaching position for our gymnastics team.”
Coach Durante had just completed her fifth season in Athens, and had missed the Super Six in 2 of her last 3 seasons. The Gym Dogs had just come off their worst-ever finish at the NCAA national meet, finishing 12th out of 12 teams for the first time.
The straw that broke the camel’s back, however, might have been the brewing controversy that arose last week when Durante abruptly dismissed two juniors and a sophomore as part of what was reported to be a “restructuring of the team.” Natalie Vaculik, Caroline Bradford, and Jasmine Arnold were all quietly let go without explanation, and Vaculik was released from her scholarship. (Bradford and Arnold were walk-ons.) The handling of that incident was panned by The Red And Black and by others, and Durante herself seemed to provide some rather circumspect and odd quotes about the situation.
Regardless of the exact reasons for which Greg McGarity chose to make this move now, I can see the logic in letting Durante go after this season. After the worst finish at nationals in the history of the Gym Dogs’ program, such an action is always a possibility. Not only that, but UGA has two really excellent recruiting classes lined up over the next two years, and unlike what might happen in football or basketball after a coaching move, those classes are unlikely to change. (The 2017 class is 100% signed and locked in, and the 2018 class is all but locked in, since pretty much all other major programs have already had their scholarship slots filled with commits for a year or more at this point.) So that means that whoever comes in to replace Danna will be starting from a much better place, talent-wise, than what Coach Durante inherited.
Ever since I was granted media access to the Gym Dogs last fall, I’ve made no mistake of the fact that I’ve come to really like Danna Durante. She strikes me as a very driven coach who wants to keep getting better, and more than that, she strikes me as a good person who truly cares about the ladies in her charge.
But the hard facts are that the results were not there... at least, not yet. As I’ve said many times, we’re the Gym Dogs, dammit, and we should always be making the Super Six... every year. And not only that, but we should be actually competing for the national championship more often than not. Coach Durante had some recruiting struggles early on, since UGA’s reputation in the gymnastics world had declined so precipitously after Suzanne Yoculan left, and she had been working on building that reputation back up. I think that this incoming freshman class and the class of 2018 could have helped Durante get the Gym Dogs back to the elite level of college gymnastics. But then again, if the team’s motivation became a problem, they might not have. And with a major locker room shakeup like the one we just saw, there’s really no way of knowing how the team would have responded.
As so often happens in the coaching world, it looks like some other coach will be reaping the rewards of Coach Durante’s work in rebuilding Georgia’s recruiting reputation. And hopefully the new Head Gym Dog will be a great recruiter in his/her own right, will continue the rebuilding process, and will take us back to the heights that we haven’t seen in nearly a decade now.
As y’all know, I’ve got a lot going on right now, but I’ll try to come back later in the week with some coaching candidates and my assessment of them. Unfortunately, I don’t think there are really any automatic “home run” coaching choices available right now. Anybody we hire is going to be a relative unknown, and we’ll just have to see how they work out.
So, until later...