Which New Head Coach Has Performed the Best in 2023?

The coaching carousel is one of the most followed parts of the college gymnastics offseason, but when push comes to shove, how have these new coaches performed, and have their teams actually gotten any better since they took the reins of the program? The 2023 season saw eight new head coaches take over various programs across the country. It’s generally assumed that a new coach means a scoring dip for the team, at least during the first few years of their tenure as both the team and the new staff adjust. However, the 2023 season provided a few examples of teams going against the grain and actually having scores rise from last season’s NQS’. 

Just a note about the methodology here. Team NQS for each event as well as the overall NQS were compared from Week 10 over 2023 and 2022 since the 2023 season isn’t over yet. Another thing to keep in mind is that changes in scores can be due to a variety of factors—scoring trends, transfers/graduates, etc.—but this piece is only looking at overall trends in each new coach’s first season.

UCLA – Janelle McDonald

Overall NQS change from 2022-23 Vault NQS Bars NQS Beam NQS Floor NQS
+1.145 +0.16 +0.42 +0.25 +0.285

The arrival of former Cal assistant coach Janelle McDonald in Los Angeles was one of the most followed stories of the 2022 offseason after Chris Waller’s resignation. Right off the bat, McDonald had high expectations on her shoulders after two years of lower-than-expected performances from the Bruins. McDonald, aided by BJ Das and Kyle and Autumn Grable, made quick work out of turning the program’s problems around and getting UCLA back to national relevance.

Gymnastics fans who are familiar with McDonald won’t be surprised that bars, her pet event at Cal, made the biggest leap between the 2022 and 2023 seasons. Coincidently, this was also the event that Waller coached during his time with the Bruins. There wasn’t necessarily much lineup turnover between the two seasons, with only two freshmen making the UCLA bar lineup consistently as the postseason approaches. After helping Cal’s lineup reach new heights, it seems that McDonald is ready to take UCLA back to its peak on the event. 

While bars has been UCLA’s largest numerical gain, its most symbolic reemergence has undoubtedly been on floor, where the Bruins have finally taken back the No. 1 spot in the national rankings on what has over the years become its signature event. In fact, UCLA has surpassed even 2020 levels—the last time the Bruins held the top spot in the rankings on the event. This rise has coincided with BJ Das being hired as a full assistant head coach after spending the last three seasons in the volunteer assistant position. Das is best known for her choreography, having produced numerous viral routines during her time in LA, but it seems that she’s taken well to coaching on the event as well. For the first time in a few seasons, the famed “floor party” feels more like a rager than a town hall meeting. 


UC Davis – Tanya Ho

Overall NQS change from 2022-23 Vault NQS Bars NQS Beam NQS Floor NQS
+0.245 +0 +0.175 +0.105 +0.12

Although it didn’t get nearly as much press as UCLA’s coaching change, Tanya Ho’s rise to the head coach position wasn’t without its fair share of controversy. Longtime head coach John Lavallee was fired mere months before the 2023 season, leaving Ho to be the Aggies’ interim head coach while the athletic department searched for a permanent replacement. Ho made the best of a hasty situation, however, with almost a quarter of a point improvement from last year’s NQS. 

Similarly to its Californian compatriot, UC Davis’ largest improvement came on bars. Unlike UCLA, there has been a fair amount of turnover in the lineup, though not necessarily due to a large freshman class. Instead, Ho has called on upperclassmen who didn’t compete on the event last season. By using the people who have already been a part of the program for years, UC Davis has been able to skip a bit of the awkward stage that generally accompanies having freshman- or underclassman-heavy lineups. 

For the first time in about a decade, UC Davis has a real shot at making regionals. Despite the circumstances at hand, Ho has given the athletic department every reason to keep her on as more than the interim head coach going forward. 

Brown – Brittany Harris

Overall NQS change from 2022-23 Vault NQS Bars NQS Beam NQS Floor NQS
+0.91 +0.175 -0.18 +0.45 +0.445

After longtime coach Sara Carver-Milne moved to coach at Auburn, Brittany Harris was named as the new head coach at Brown. Harris spent a few years moving around the DII and DIII circuit, first serving as an assistant and interim head coach at Lindenwood followed by a year as head coach at Centenary. 

Brown’s beam NQS in particular is almost a full fall above its 2022 number, showing both an increase in consistency and overall routine quality. This improvement has come from the top down, with only one freshman being a regular contributor to the lineup. While Carver-Milne brought the Bears to great success, it seems that Harris has been able to build on the work of her predecessor to bring the program to new levels.

Ahead of GEC championship, Brown is sitting at No. 2 in the conference, with a margin of about six-tenths over the third-ranked team. The Bears also won the Ivy Classic in upset fashion, along with bringing in the program’s second-highest score. This was Brown’s first Ivy Classic title since a tie in 2016, and its first outright victory since 2014. Brown has experienced some major upward trajectory over the course of the 2023 season, and with Harris at the helm, the Bears show no sign of stopping.

While precedents are often set in tradition, these three programs have upset the traditional mindset that with a new coach comes a dip in scoring potential. While there are obviously more factors in play than just the head coach, it’s impossible to leave out the impact that a coach can have on the quality of gymnastics, team morale, and team standing. 

READ THIS NEXT: Affection, Trust and New Head Coach Brittany Harris Lift Brown to New Heights

Article by Ian LeWarn

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