Wow! The coaching carousel has certainly been active this offseason, with many top programs gaining new head or assistant coaches and some programs getting complete overhauls. We discussed UCLA’s hiring of Janelle McDonald and Clemson’s hiring of Amy Smith in their own roundtable earlier in the summer, so check those out if you haven’t already.
Let’s start with a big one: Alabama. Ashley Priess Johnston was named head coach, and she subsequently retained Gina Quinlan and poached Justin Spring from the Illinois men. What do you think about the Crimson Tide’s outlook?
Elizabeth: I’m a big fan of the Johnston hire first and foremost. I pegged her as the most likely and the one Alabama should target, and the athletic department did just that. As for her assistants, Spring was a SHOCK, but I like the move. He’s very well-liked, and a great coach. I also like that she rounded out her staff with an old face to help with the transition for the current team members and recruits alike.
Savanna: We discussed in detail who we thought should get the Alabama job and Johnston was definitely one of our frontrunners. This staff, along with some big recruiting classes and a key fifth-year return for Shallon Olsen, has the potential to take the Crimson Tide far the next few seasons if the coaches gel as a staff — and quickly.
Tara: The Johnston hire makes a lot of sense for Alabama on so many levels. I’ll put my stamp of approval on it, that’s for sure. I’d say the assistants were more of a shock, but solid hires nonetheless. Quinlan makes sense as a “keep one of the old guard around” coach to bridge the relationship building and trust around the new staff. Spring is highly regarded in the coaching world and the fact that Johnston was able to poach him from the Illinois men is a great move, especially considering how involved he’s been in advocating for growth and retention of men’s NCAA teams.
Tavia: This is a best-case scenario for Alabama. I’ve never seen a team recover so quickly and so gracefully from a surprise coach step down. Johnston has been sharpening her skills over the last few years at Auburn and finally is back in Crimson Tide territory. Retaining Gina Quinlan was also a big win for the program considering her level of experience coaching high level elite athletes. The Justin Spring hire came out of left field, but I’m interested to see how his transition to coaching women’s gymnastics goes. On the bright side, he has a dozen years of Division I head coaching experience under his belt, so he can provide a different perspective than most assistant coaches.
Emily M: The whole gymnastics community has had an eye on Johnston for an eventual head coaching role, so with Alabama being her alma mater it makes perfect sense. I was happy to see Quinlan stay on. Before Alabama hired her last year, she was at club powerhouse Metroplex, so she has both coaching chops and hugely important Texas club connections that will undoubtedly be important in recruiting. Like everyone else, the Spring news shook me. I’m an Illinois alumna, and I can assure you that he was a downright institution for the Illini. Not to mention that he’s been a force in keeping the MAG flame alive in college. My concerns for the Illinois men aside — they’re aren’t that many, really, as Daniel Ribeiro is a Spring protege and I think he will excel — Spring is a fascinating and creative hire for Johnston. He has been a strong coach at Illinois, which won a national title under his leadership and recruited stars like Paul Ruggeri and Alex Diab. I’m sure he’ll bring a new perspective to WAG, too. He’s well-connected and well-known but in circles slightly different from the typical WAG universe. It’s going to be fascinating to see what happens, but I think the Tide is well on its way.
On a similar note, Johnston opened up an important assistant coach position at Auburn with her departure, which Brown head coach Sarah Carver-Milne then filled. What do you think of this move for Auburn?
Elizabeth: This was another big shock when the news came out. Rebecca discovered that Carver-Milne’s kid is headed off to college, so I guess the timing was right to make a move. I just didn’t expect a longtime head coach to make a jump to an assistant position, even if it is at a bigger, on-the-rise program.
Savanna: I think I like this move. I’m not as familiar with Carver-Milne, but I’m all for a coach from a smaller school making themself known in the Power Five. I’ll be interested to see what she does with a program that just finished in the top four in the country.
Tara: This is an interesting one. I’ll admit I’m also not as familiar with her, but it seems like a good hire. It’s shocking to see a long time head coach move to an assistant role, but between the timing for her family and the opportunity to move on to an SEC school, I can see how it would make sense.
Tavia: As a lover of USAG gymnastics, this move was bitter sweet. I love that Carver-Milne is finally moving up to a Power Five conference after 20 years with Brown. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was sad for the Bears when I first heard the news. Brown was definitely on the upswing in 2022, so I’m interested to see what the next head coach does when he or she takes the reins. I’m excited to see how Carver-Milne does this season, though. Perhaps this will create a better pipeline between smaller conference jobs and the Power Five.
Emily M: It’s so rare to see someone move from a head coaching role to an assistant role, especially in the absence of anything scandalous, so like everyone else, I was surprised. It feels like a bold move on Jeff Graba’s part, and I’m intrigued. Auburn has the potential for another record-breaking year in 2023, so it’ll be interesting to see how Carver-Milne affects the dynamics.
Missouri assistant John Carney took the open role at Cal that was McDonald’s the past few years. What are your thoughts on this hire from the Howells?
Elizabeth: Carney coaches mostly bars and vault, and those two events were underrated for the Tigers in 2022 despite being ranked lower than beam and floor overall, so I like the move. I think he can continue to develop a Golden Bears bars lineup that’s already strong and has the potential to be stronger.
Savanna: I love this! Missouri’s bars were so good this year, and I’m obsessed with the event at Cal, too, so this just feels like the right opportunity to elevate an already good bars team to a great one.
Tara: He obviously has big shoes to fill, but this move makes sense for Cal. He played a big role in elevating Missouri’s vault and bars lineups, and I think he’ll continue to do the same at Cal.
Tavia: I think Carney will slide right into the position McDonald left open without much difficulty. I’m hoping that his addition to the staff will mean a few more consistent 10.0 vaults, especially since that’s an area where Cal has been getting left behind in the postseason.
Emily M: I agree with Tavia that Carney brings the potential to up the Bears’ vault game. Bars wasn’t Missouri’s best event in 2022, but it has been consistently good there for years now. That’s a good sign.
Speaking of McDonald, she decided on a staff of BJ Das and Kyle and Autumn Grable. What do you think of the Bruins’ outlook based on these hirings?
Elizabeth: She certainly went with what she knows, pulling from the club scene in her two “new” hires. I also get why she retained Das: The team seems to love her and she doesn’t have to worry about finding a star choreographer. Time will tell, though, whether these three are actual good coaching hires, though. My gut says yes.
Savanna: I, for one, am glad McDonald kept Das. I always like when a new coach keeps one of the previous staff members for consistency, like Johnston did at Alabama. Her choreography has turned lots of heads outside of the gymternet, but I am curious to see what, if anything, she contributes to other events. I am excited for the Grables, too! I hope the Bruins will be able to rebuild the program and the team chemistry with McDonald and her staff.
Tara: My first reaction to Das was somewhere along the lines of “interesting, but makes sense.” It’s easy to see a world where McDonald doesn’t want to deal with choreography and wants to stick with what has worked, especially considering UCLA’s legacy when it comes to floor routines. The Grables are also great hires—they’ve built up a great program at JPAC with multiple highly rated recruits.
Tavia: Keeping Das is a no brainer to me. UCLA’s potentially viral floor choreography is non-negotiable. I like the idea of hiring from the club gymnastics ranks, too! DP coaches have to teach athletes new skills every day while focusing on the details of each skill. The Grables have developed several to- ranked recruits lately, and I would expect this trend to carry over to the college scene.
Emily M: We’re all in agreement about Das. Why not keep the person who has choreographed viral routines? UCLA will always be held to a higher standard on floor when it comes to public opinion, and it makes sense that McDonald didn’t want to mess with that. JPAC is such a level 10 powerhouse, so I have faith that the Grables have the coaching chops necessary to excel somewhere like UCLA. It’ll be interesting to watch what the dynamic is like next season, to be sure, but I think the Bruins will get off on the right foot.
Looking to some of the other assistant coach moves, Stephen Hood is now at Denver and Ryan Roberts is now at Georgia. How do you feel about these moves by the Pioneers and Gymdogs?
Elizabeth: We say it a lot, but Texas Woman’s is an underrated incubator for stellar coaches, and it produced another in Stephen Hood. I’m glad he’s getting an opportunity at a bigger program and has continued an upward trajectory in college gym, not unlike the Griffeths. As for Roberts, bars was one of the best pieces for the Crimson Tide recently, so I like the move for Georgia.
Savanna: Love the move for Denver! Hood’s already getting a good start on recruiting and building suspense on social media with where he’s traveling, so I’m hopeful for the Pioneers. Roberts moving to Georgia was a little surprising to me at first, but Georgia really needs to build some momentum these next few years. Hopefully Roberts can help kickstart that.
Tara: Hood is a great move for Denver! He’s steadily built a strong reputation over the years and is also well-liked by his gymnasts. Roberts was great at Alabama—the hope for Georgia is he can do more of the same in his new role. The Gymdogs may have gotten lucky with the coaching shake up at Alabama.
Tavia: Stephen Hood has been making his way up the ranks the last few seasons. Hood won a USAG national championship with TWU before transitioning to Utah State for the 2022 season. I don’t know that it’s a coincidence that the Aggies also stepped up to the plate and won a conference title this year. Clearly he’s doing something right, so we’ll see what new energy he can bring to Denver! Georgia hiring Ryan Roberts was a stroke of pure genius for the Gymdogs. I think he’ll help get the ball rolling back in the right direction.
Emily M: Like Elizabeth mentioned, TWU is a hot spot for up-and-comers. Hood brings USAG championship experience from the Pioneers to his new Pioneers (heh), which is certainly a plus. As for Roberts, it was smart of Courtney Kupets-Carter to find someone with a lot of experience across college and elite coaching. She has shown that she doesn’t have the oompf on her own to hold the Gymdogs to the standard of performance Georgia is accustomed to, and maybe having an assistant who can do some of the heavy lifting is just the ticket.
Similarly, just last week we heard Hallie Mossett is heading to Stanford and Kyla Ross is moving into the paid assistant role at Arkansas. Thoughts?
Elizabeth: Mossett to Stanford is rather weird, but I don’t blame her for wanting to get back to California and likely be paid a lot more than she was at LIU. It also makes sense that the Cardinal lost a floor person and found a one-to-one replacement, but maybe it should consider doing something about vault, too. There’s still time. As for Arkansas, I’m bored. This is not commentary about Ross, but Wieber has fallen into a bit of a trap with just hiring her friends. She can’t realistically fire her fiance even though his events have been the worst performing recently, and I’m not sure how much value Ross adds to what the Razorbacks need to turn into a contender.
Savanna: Stanford is getting a good one in Mossett. I’m looking forward to her choreography with the floor team. As far as Ross goes, I’m torn. The London 2012 fan in me loves that she and Wieber are together, but the somewhat educated gymnastics analyst in me really wants Wieber to step outside the box with her hires and not turn Arkansas into UCLA South. Ross did a good job coaching beam this last year, so I truly hope the Razorbacks’ beam team continues to excel this next year, too.
Tara: I’m intrigued by Mossett to Stanford. It does make sense that she might’ve wanted to move back to California, but I don’t know enough about her as a coach beyond her choreography. I’m glad Ross is getting paid, but I’m not sure the move made the most sense. She did well with beam this season, but the Razorbacks lost a good vault coach in Hano, and I was hoping they’d be able to fill the gap better. Time will tell if it’s the right move.
Tavia: I think both of these hires are safe moves but nothing too earth shattering. Part of me wonders if the Ross promotion was more about filling coaching gaps or promoting Arkansas as the only team with a full staff of Olympians. That’s just the skeptic in me. I do think that the Razorbacks have been in a bit of a lull the last two postseasons, so they need to pick it up if hiring friends is to be manageable long term. I am excited to see Mossett’s choreography at Stanford. However, I agree that there is a vault situation that needs addressing if the Cardinal expects to contend with the best in the country.
Emily M: It will be very fun to see what Mossett can do with Stanford’s floor routines. The Cardinal is certainly putting together the pieces of a contending team, and some showstopping floor choreography is part of that. Tabitha Yim is exceedingly passionate about the culture and non-gymnastics aspects of her squad, so if she decided Mossett fits the bill, I trust that. Ross moving to a paid role makes sense, and I love the publicity Arkansas has gotten about a full paid staff of Olympians, but I do wonder if the Razorbacks would have benefitted from pulling in a very experienced collegiate coach; that’s not to take anything away from Ross, rather an observation that we’ve seen some stuck-in-the-teens teams really benefit from hiring a ringer assistant in the past.
With Smith and her assistant Erik Lewis heading to Clemson, Arizona State assistant Kristin White is now set to lead Utah State with Rachel Slocum as one of her assistants. What do you think about these additions for the Aggies?
Elizabeth: White is going to have a long, hard road to success despite Utah State coming off a strong season simply due to the departure of so many important gymnasts from the 2022 roster with transfers and retirements. At the very least I’m excited to see what White — and Slocum — can do in what is essentially a rebuild at this point.
Savanna: As much as I love White and Slocum, I firmly expect this to be a rebuilding year for the Aggies. They lost six of their gymnasts to Clemson and one of their incoming recruits to Fisk. It’s going to be an interesting road, but I think White and Slocum will be able to manage it as long as they can develop the freshmen talent they still have coming in.
Tara: I’m excited to see White at the helm of her own program. It’s an exciting hire and seems like a great fit. She’s brought a familiar face from Tempe with her in Slocum, who will be coaching her standout events as a gymnast in vault and floor. It’s not going to be an easy first year, however, with a chunk of consistent contributors following Smith and Lewis to Clemson.
Tavia: I think White is a good coach, but she’s getting the short end of the stick in this situation. She’s really having to rebuild the program from the ground up, so I wouldn’t be too surprised if the team is trying to find its footing the next season or two. White’s hiring of Slocum must mean that the Florida alum is showing some promise as a strong coach. Otherwise, there would be no point in asking her to follow from Arizona State. Regardless, this coaching duo is going to have to prove it knows how to develop young athletes with the large amount of transfers. I think if the coaching staff can get the team to buy into the process, the Aggies will be just fine in two years’ time.
Emily M: Smith really packed up shop and moved her team east, not leaving White with a lot at Utah State, numbers-wise. That roster is going from one of the biggest in DI to one of the smallest. Wild! White gets to start almost from scratch, which is maybe just what the Aggies need after all of the stories of mistreatment and all of the untimely departures we saw over the past few seasons. A clean slate with White’s experience and Slocum’s enthusiasm and name-recognition is pretty exciting.
Not every filled position was addressed above. Is there anyone else you want to touch on now?
Elizabeth: The Temple turnover is interesting. I was surprised when Rachel Page and Kierstin Sokolowski were removed from the coaching roster after the 2022 season. The Owls had a good season, and we didn’t hear any rumblings of needing a change — plus, those two haven’t popped up anywhere else at least yet. However, I like the new hires in Hilary (Mauro) Steele and Sophia Hyderally. Both are relatively new to college coaching, but Temple is a good place to develop and show if they’re good at what they do.
Savanna: Oleksii Koltakov’s move from Alabama to Nebraska is a hire I will be watching closely. Nebraska’s been a struggling program as of late, so I really hope Koltakov can come in and help develop the talent the Huskers have. I like the potential, I just hope it materializes.
Tara: Mackenzie Jaworski (nee Caquatto) stepped away from the gymnastics world and into teaching after graduating from Florida, but she found her way back into the sport as an assistant at Simpson. I’m also interested in how some of the previous volunteer coaches step into their full-time roles with Lacey Rubin going to Arizona State and Sophia Hyderally at Temple.
Tavia: Sam Scherwinski was hired at Lindenwood from UW-La Crosse. While the Eagles had a good season last year, I’m wondering what that means for former Lion VAC Jessica Yamzon. Does Lindenwood’s new Division I status mean there are more coaching slots available, or will she have to find another position? The other VAC, Taylor Colwell, accepted a position at SEMO, while Yamzon no longer appears on the Lindenwood roster.
Emily M: I want to know what went down at Illinois State. Chris Muras was removed from the roster, and it seems like it was a strange situation. I was surprised, too, since the Redbirds have been so stellar, and he really seemed like the heart of the program.
And finally, there are a couple of big names floating around and big holes still left to fill. What are your thoughts about some of those holes and names currently without homes?
Elizabeth: Robert Ladanyi is the big name still without a job. We don’t know if he’s even still looking to coach, but whatever team picks him up if he is will get an immediate boost. I’m also interested to see where Chris Muras ends up.
Savanna: This isn’t a specific name, but Randy Lane now has two assistant slots to fill with Mossett going to Stanford and Lauren Marinez not returning as well. LIU is a smaller program, albeit slowly on the rise, but Lane has openly stated his intention to hand off the program to someone else in the next few years. He needs to find a staff to help keep that momentum going, otherwise I’m worried about the team’s future.
Tara: We touched on Utah State above, but there’s another assistant position presumably up for grabs there, and it will be interesting to see how White fills out her staff. Missouri recently filled its opening with Whitney Snowden, leaving Michigan State with an opening—she was at the helm of the Spartans’ success on vault and floor. I didn’t see her move from Michigan State coming, and now the Spartans need to fill her role as they look towards continuing last season’s success.
Tavia: Honestly, my biggest concern right now is Brown. It’s mid July, and the Bears have no coaching staff at the moment. I’m starting to get a bit nervous. Do they go the interim route for now?
Emily M: As I was typing a response, Missouri announced the addition of Whitney Snowden. That leaves a surging Michigan State without a vault and floor coach. Could we see Dom Palange step in? Some folks think anyone on UCLA’s 2022 staff is untouchable, but Palange seemed to remain well-loved through it all. Stepping to a team slightly out of the brightest spotlight might be just right.
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Seems like everyone is speaking on Amy Smith but send to have given Waller and Duckworth a pass. Has there been any more discussion on their histories in regards to their treatment of their athletes? They almost seem to be given the memories of the doubt. Fair and balanced
This roundtable was about current coaches, so that’s why we stuck to Smith (still currently coaching at Clemson) and not Waller or Duckworth (not currently coaching).