Every offseason we spend countless hours speculating about the coaching carousel, but what about coaching pipelines? In the last decade under head coach Lisa Bowerman’s leadership, Texas Woman’s University has become a sort of incubator for young coaching talent, including the likes of Garrett and Courtney McCool Griffeth and Stephen Hood, who now coach at LSU and Denver, respectively, and will be doing so this weekend at the 2023 NCAA national championships. But what is it about the small, Division II school in Denton, Texas, that attracts and develops such promising coaches?
For Bowerman, who took the reins from longtime head coach Frank Kudlac in 2012 after being an assistant coach for seven years, it all starts at the hiring process. By prioritizing character rather than college level coaching experience, she attracts individuals who take the responsibility of being entrusted with the lives of the athletes they coach just as seriously as the more technical aspects of coaching.
Reflecting on her hiring process she said, “The No. 1 thing that is at the top of my list is going to be their character—that they’re trustworthy. You can’t teach that. You can’t replace that with any level of experience or talent or technical knowledge”.
With this trust established, Bowerman is able to give a lot of freedom to her assistant coaches. This is where the magic happens, both for the coaches and the program. For current Texas Woman’s assistant coach Matthew DeGrandpre who joined the staff for the 2023 season, this freedom came in the form of taking the lead on drafting preseason training plans for vault and bars, his primary events. And while Bowerman and assistant coach Kristen Harold helped refine these plans, this ownership helped DeGrandpre approach training more holistically and get the “brain thinking differently about those little things,” which he cited as his biggest area of growth throughout his first season.
But aside from helping young coaches gain experience, this delegation helps bring fresh ideas to the program. Bowerman mentioned that when they started at TWU in 2014, Garrett and Courtney McCool Griffeth, asked many questions about how the program was run. Bowerman appreciated this opportunity to challenge the mentality of “this is how it was always done,” especially as a newer head coach at a program where she was previously an assistant. Again, the mutual trust among the coaching staff creates this space to freely share ideas. Bowerman describes this as crucial because “we all have different experiences, perspectives, knowledge, and I think it’s extremely important to always have the ability to share that both ways.”
During Bowerman’s tenure, this delegation has led to success in multiple aspects of the program. In addition to winning two USAG collegiate national titles, TWU set new program records on every event between 2014 and 2018. In addition, the team has increased its difficulty on vault, competing fewer Yurchenko layouts and more twisting vaults over the last decade, a major project of Garrett Griffeth’s.
While the culture among the coaching staff creates a collaborative environment, the smallness of TWU as a program also makes it a rich opportunity for growth. As a Division II school, TWU simply does not have the monetary resources of a Power Five program, which both forces and allows the coaches to be more directly involved with every aspect. Garrett Griffeth spoke of this as a learning curve in the transition from being a grad assistant at Georgia to a coach at TWU saying, “You had to literally have your hands in every aspect of the program. If you didn’t do it, it wasn’t going to get done.”
This intense involvement manifested in different ways from setting up and taking down equipment for home meets, to driving athletes to away meets in minivans, to leaving awards early to get dinner for the gymnasts. Bowerman joked that “there is no task too small for us to do. If there’s a piece of trash, I’m going to pick it up.”
Garrett Griffeth said that these experiences, which included a lot of the work that a director of operations may do at an SEC school, was a unique and invaluable learning experience. Aside from learning how to do a lot of jobs, this position gave him a greater appreciation of the work that may be delegated in a larger program, saying, “We do get comfortable in our roles and take for granted some of the resources we have.”
And in his time since in various Power Five coaching roles—from Arkansas to Utah to now at LSU—this experience has helped him monitor all aspects of the programs he’s a part of and has him constantly thinking about doing things in new ways, specifically in regards to recruiting.
In addition to the greater operational responsibilities that come with coaching at TWU, it also forces coaches to become more creative. From a recruiting perspective, TWU simply did not have the budget to be on the road every week. To maximize what he did have, Griffeth would buy the cheapest plane ticket possible and combine as many possible gym visits into the span of a few days.
He said that this creativity has helped him in his career since then, even at schools that do have more resources, giving him the tools and perspective to “think outside the box and to come up with things that other people aren’t doing to try and gain an advantage.”
And the success that Bowerman’s assistant coaches have at TWU continues to attract young talent. DeGrandpre, who was just named Co-Division II Assistant Coach of the Year said, “Looking at the success and the history of the program, why wouldn’t you want to come here? And then you look at other assistants who have been here who have been super successful not only in their time here, but then in their time afterward as well.”
Article by Rebecca Williams
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