What to Watch for With the 2021 Coaching Carousel

At the close of every season, there are always coaches whose jobs seem tenuous and those who seem poised to fill newly open positions. We took a look at the field to see what might transpire over the next few months. Note that Rhode Island College has an assistant coach opening and Winona State is looking for a head coach, but we didn’t address those here.

Open Jobs

Kentucky Assistant Coach

Kentucky recently parted ways with longtime vault and floor coach Chuck Dickerson, to the great consternation of alumnae. The situation seems tense at best, but the Wildcats are certainly in the market for a new leg event expert. 

Washington Full Staff

While we’re still trying to piece together all of the rumors surrounding Elise Ray-Statz’ sudden departure from Seattle in the fall of 2020, what we do know leads us to suspect that neither some members of the team nor the University’s administrators were all too sad to see her go. Interim head coach Ralph Rosso has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s not the answer, though, and neither are Washington’s current assistant coaches. 

Finishing at the bottom of the Pac-12 by a large margin isn’t a great look. Losing a point and a half of NQS year over year is worse. Missing regionals just three years after the most recent nationals appearance is a catastrophe, and no matter how well-liked the guy might be, it should take a little more than being nice and funny to keep a head coach gig at a school with Washington’s athletic standards.

There are excuses one can make for this performance, but they don’t hold up to scrutiny. Yes, a great class graduated in 2020, but we’re old enough to remember when the Washington freshmen were also considered a great class. Yes, several key contributors didn’t compete due to injury or COVID opt-out, but that’s not an excuse for the performance so much as the natural conclusion of a long-term recruiting failure at Washington, and Rosso and assistant coach Chad Wiest are at the very least complicit in that.

Meanwhile, Wiest coaches a vault lineup that has regularly struggled to field six vaults with 9.95-plus start values across his five years in Seattle, and Baely Rowe’s beam lineup dropped from eighth to No. 40 in the country in a single year and was the site of Washington’s ultimate failure to make regionals. Athletes’ recent willingness to attack each other openly on social media over their relative contributions to the team can only be interpreted as a symptom of a team culture that is entirely rotten. There’s really nothing to salvage here. Now that we know the head coach job posting at Washington is active, we can only hope that the athletic department follows in the footsteps of Arizona State—the last team where Rosso served as interim head coach after the firing of his longtime co-worker Rene Lyst—and starts fresh for 2022.

Stanford Assistant Coach 

Greg Marsden’s always-handy coaching vacancies chart has Neal Gallant’s job at Stanford vacated. It’s not reflected on Stanford’s website yet, but Marsden is about the only person we trust to be ahead of official announcements on this topic. Gallant was an all around assistant for the Cardinal for six seasons. After some troublesome years, we can imagine that Tabitha Yim is looking to add someone dynamic and exciting to her staff.

Bridgeport Full Staff

When it looked like the gymnastics program at Bridgeport was about to be cut, three of its four coaches moved 20 miles up the Atlantic coast to take the reins at Southern Connecticut after the retirement of the Owls’ legendary head coach. The remaining Bridgeport coach, Becky Ferraro, had planned to leave coaching after the 2020 season, but she stepped back in, in an interim capacity once it became clear that the team would survive. She’s more than capable of leading the Purple Knights, but if her priorities remain with her day job as a school librarian, we can expect this position to open up over the summer.

Due for a Promotion

Jen Llewellyn, Lindenwood

Llewellyn has taken the still-relatively-new Lindenwood program and led it to greatness. The Lions are regular MIC and USAG title contenders, not to mention perpetual regionals qualifying threats. While we love her passion for DII gymnastics, not to mention her friendship with fellow MIC coaches Lisa Bowerman and Ashley Lawson, there’s no denying that Llewellyn is a stellar coach who must be on athletic directors’ minds when filling DI head coaching roles. She’s a Pacific Northwest native and an Oregon State alumna; will we see her make the move to Seattle? Time will tell.

Janelle McDonald, California

McDonald is the bars coach for the Golden Bears, a role she has held since 2018. Before her collegiate career she gained a wealth of club experience at Legacy Elite, WOGA and Desert Lights. She has led her bars teams to better and better NQSs each season with the team, culminating in a record-breaking 2021. She’s a star coach on the rise.  

Craig Ballard, Kent State 

Ballard has been the vault and floor coach for the Flashes since 2012. Floor has long been a standout piece for Kent State, with stars like Marie Case, Rachel Stypinski and Abby Fletcher on the roster. Ballard has seen his share of individuals qualify to regionals and has the resume to move into a leg event role at a Power 5. That Kentucky opening could be just the ticket.

Ashley Kerr, Oklahoma VAC

Talk about pedigree. Kerr was on the Florida roster from 2007-10, was the student manager and then team manager for the Gators from 2011-13 and has been the Oklahoma volunteer assistant for the past three seasons. That’s three championship seasons under her belt, and mentorship from the most renowned staff in college gymnastics. We have to think that when the right paid assistant gig comes along, Kerr will be in contention.

Garrett and Courtney McCool Griffeth

It certainly seems like the Griffiths are happy at Utah, and after the Utes’ extremely successful season, we can imagine that Tom Farden absolutely wants to hang onto his staff as-is. That said, it’s true that wherever the Griffeths go, success follows. We could see them as a stellar head coach/assistant coach (or co-head coach) duo if the job and time are ever right. They’ve certainly been building that kind of resume.

On the Hot Seat 

Heather Brink, Nebraska

Brink took over the Huskers’ program after Dan Kendig retired in a wave of quiet scandal—for paying his volunteer assistant—in October 2018 shortly after the team broke ground on its new state-of-the-art training facility. Kendig’s assistant Brink became interim head coach and was named head coach in February 2019. The Huskers finished a very respectable sixth in 2018, right in line with their prior several finishes. It was easy to assume that the coaching transition had been smooth, but the team slipped in 2019 to No. 14 after failing to advance out of the Ann Arbor regional. The shortened 2020 season fared even worse, ending with the Huskers at No. 19 on the heels of a handful of injuries. More than once over those two years we found ourselves asking: Does this team have six bar routines? 

After the 2019 season, there was a mass exodus of transfers: Addy de Jesus (Iowa State), Kaylee Quinn (Alabama) and Abby Johnston (Arkansas) all left the team. Assistant coach Mike Heredia also left. Whatever happened in that situation, plus injuries and COVID opt-outs from all arounder Megan Verceles Carr, led to very depleted lineups for a 2021 season that ended with Nebraska’s worst finish since at least 1997, not to mention finishing dead last at Big Tens. Brink brought in a very respected bar coach in Brian Amato, and that lineup did improve despite some bumps along the way.

Certainly there are caveats for COVID, but one can’t help but wonder what is going on in Lincoln. The departure of so many contributing gymnasts is perturbing. We’ve seen other programs with clouds over their heads resort to very heavy international recruiting, something Nebraska seems to have turned to of late; whether it’s related, we don’t know. You’d think big-name American prospects would be flocking to a historically nationals-caliber program and shiny new facility, but they simply aren’t. Brink is a legacy coach—one of the all-time Husker greats—so we assume she will be given a fair bit of time to right the ship. But we have to imagine that the pressure is on.

Courtney Kupets-Carter, Georgia

We know from history that Georgia does not fear firing underperforming coaches. It has been searching for “the next Suzanne” since Yoculan retired in 2009. Kupets-Carter was supposed to be it, Yoculan’s protege, sweeping in to restore Georgia gymnastics to the glory (glory) days. It hasn’t gone great. 

Kupets-Carter took the helm in 2018 when the team finished a reasonable seventh. Most teams would be thrilled with a national semifinal finish, but it was a let down for a Georgia fan base used to landing in the top three during Yoculan’s tenure. 2019 was a little worse, at No. 8, then 2020’s short season closed with Georgia at No. 12. This year, the Gymdogs never found their footing despite some shining moments, and ended the year missing nationals entirely (without even an individual qualifier), not even qualifying to the Sweet Sixteen and finishing at a disappointing No. 18. There are excuses, to be sure—injuries, including a few Achilles, the odd COVID year that saw the Gymdogs have to miss SECs and former elites whose bodies seem done. And there have been some good moments, like the great turnaround in the beam lineup this year. However, it seems like there are excuses every year, and at what point do those excuses become too overwhelming to overlook?

For reference: Jay Clark resigned after the 2012 season with No. 13, No. 9 and No. 11 finishes to his name. Dana Durante lasted a bit longer but was let go after a No. 12 finish in 2017. Kupets-Carter is the name Georgia wants, but we assume her squad can only miss nationals once or twice more, given that Georgia is a team that will accept only a national title as success.

Running out of Chances

Tabitha Yim, Stanford

The obstacles Stanford faced to compete at all in the 2021 season were hostile in the extreme, so it’s unfair to hold anyone accountable for the final ranking. That doesn’t explain the shortcomings of the previous seasons, though. Like Georgia, Stanford hired one of its own all-time greats in the hopes of bringing back the golden days, and like Georgia, that hasn’t happened, at least yet. Stanford leads the NCAA in all-time championships, and its women’s gymnastics team has finished as high as No. 2. An athletic department with those standards can’t be content with a team that regularly finishes the season borderline on even qualifying to regionals…right?

Jenny Rowland, Florida

It seems almost silly to bring up Rowland in this conversation, but Florida, like Georgia, wants to win. The Gators expect to win both SECs and a national championship in the near term, both things they failed to do in 2021. Yes, Trinity Thomas was injured, yes COVID played a role, but Rowland’s tenure with the team has also seen its worst finish since 2002, in 2019, and only one SEC title, in her first year in 2016. The Gators have collected a few regular season titles and some signature wins under Rowland, but that success is going to need to translate into the postseason if Rowland is a long-term head coach for the program. While we don’t think Rowland’s job is really in jeopardy yet, with a haul of the best-of-the-best recruits walking in the door, the pressure is on. These next few seasons will be telling.

Kristina Comforte, UCLA

There’s precious little we can say here that you haven’t already read a million times across social media. The fact is, UCLA showed a great deal of faith in a relatively inexperienced candidate by hiring Comforte directly to an associate head coach position, and for both of her two years in Westwood her pet event has been an outright liability to the Bruins. Since this season had realistic depth concerns due to mass deferrals of commits, there’s a little bit of wiggle room for accountability to be deflected off of Comforte, but if the beam situation doesn’t improve in 2022, one has to assume she’ll be under extreme pressure.

READ THIS NEXT: CGN Roundtable: Looking Back at the 2021 Season

Article by Rebecca Scally and Emily Minehart

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  1. Would love to see a complete list of “legacy coaches” so we can compare.

    Jenny Hansen was a gymnast at Minnesota before she became their head coach IIRC.

  2. Jenny Rowland really needs to look at how they plan the season, they peak far too soon, yes regular season champions is a great title but not at the cost of national and SEC championship success, poor girls were exhausted by the final both mentally and physically

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