2021 Predictions: Who is the most underrated coach in the country?

There’s less than two weeks left until the start of the long-awaited 2021 season. While this year may look a bit different than we’re used to, the gymnastics is still the same—and it wouldn’t be a new season without some predictions. Taking a page out of The Athletic’s book, we’ll be answering one pressing question over the course of 10 days as we gear up for the first meet. Check out the previous days’ questions and predictions here.

Who is the most underrated coach in the country?

Winner: Justin Howell and Elisabeth Crandall-Howell (4 votes)

Runners-up: Larissa Libby, Umme Salim-Beasley, Amy Smith (2 votes)

Also receiving votes: John Lavallee, Josh Nilson

Elizabeth: I’m going with Larissa Libby at Iowa. That team is a lot of fun, the floor choreography is great and they’re poised for a breakthrough. I don’t see enough people talking about the hawkeyes.

Talitha: I will say John Lavallee of UC Davis. The team is growing exponentially, recruiting has been great, floor choreography is among the best in the country and Tanya Ho’s homecoming will only make things better. 

Katherine: Josh Nilson has been doing great things at Temple. The recruiting, the floor routines, the leotards and many more aspects have improved under him. 

Katie: I’m going to go with Amy Smith at Utah State. Utah State showed signs of brilliance last year, with the majority of routines coming from freshmen and sophomores. The Aggies have been on the rise since Smith took over for the 2017-18 season, and the future for this program looks to be moving up. With some experience under the freshmen’s belt now, I’m looking forward to seeing what they accomplish this season. 

Emily M: I’ve had the pleasure of watching Larissa Libby coach in person a few times now. In every instance, she’s kept her team engaged and they’re having a blast. Iowa gymnasts often come back from injuries, there isn’t huge attrition and gymnasts add skills over their college careers. All hallmarks of good coaching if you ask me.

Brandis: Earlier I predicted California to have a breakout year, and a lot of that is also because of the work Justin Howell and Elisabeth Crandall-Howell have done over the past decade. When they took over in 2012, the Golden Bears hadn’t made regionals in five seasons. Now, less than 10 years later, California is a realistic threat to make an NCAA finals appearance.

Mary Emma: Umme Salim-Beasley at Rutgers. She did huge things for Temple in her three years there, and Rutgers appears to be on a similar trajectory. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Scarlet Knights in regionals contention within the next few years.

Jenna: I’m going to agree with Brandis here—Justin Howell and Elisabeth Crandall-Howell have done a fantastic job at Cal, and with the way they’ve been recruiting, the sky is the limit.

Izzi: My vote is for Justin Howell and Elisabeth Crandall-Howell. Cal has been improving at a fast rate, and the recruiting has been excellent. I’m really excited to watch them over the next few years.

Tara: I’m going to go with Umme Salim-Beasley. Rutgers seems to be on an upward trajectory, and it really seems as though she’s had a positive impact on the team. Like Mary Emma noted, she was great at Temple, and it appears she’s only just getting started at Rutgers. 

Claire: Reigning MRGC Coach of the Year Amy Smith is doing great things at Utah State, as evidenced by its record-smashing 2020 season. I’m really excited to see how far the Aggies can go this year.  

Kalley: Echoing others here, but it’s hard to argue against Justin Howell and Elisabeth Crandall-Howell. Cal is a team to watch, and the recruits they’ve brought on are absolutely exceptional. 

Article by Elizabeth Grimsley, Talitha Ilacqua, Katherine Weaver, Katie Walsh, Emily Minehart, Brandis Heffner, Tara Graeve, Mary Emma Burton, Jenna King, Izzi Baskin, Claire Billman and Kalley Leer

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  1. You guys are crazy! Liz definitely deserves the #1 spot but after that, you guys need to do some research. Libby took over a program that made nationals, top 12 at the time, in back to back years. Two years later the team missed regionals. The only coach to have a worse current standing compared to when they took over a program is Minasola at Eastern Michigan. Check the Road to Nationals coaching rankings. Salim-Beasley and Nilson have improved Rutgers and Temple by 5 places and you guys picked them! Amy Smith has gotten Utah State 11 places worse since taking over and she is underrated? And just for reference, I am not counting “last season” as a true season for final rankings.

  2. The writer seems to only be looking at the 2020 season (not a true season?) … which shows Utah State rebounding after previously unsuccessful years under Amy Smith. A similar thing happened at Carolina. Previous to Amy’s stint at Carolina, Carolina consistently made it into regionals, hovering around a 30th rank. During Amy’s tenure, Carolina sank into the the 50’s rank and rebounded to 36th rank in 2017, Amy’s last year. Amy was credited with this “success” and was given conference assistant coach of the year.

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