Iowa State fans cheer at a 2023 meet.

Coaches on the Hot Seat—or Due for a Promotion—After the 2023 Season

The 2023 season has wrapped, which means it’s time to hop on the annual coaching carousel. There are already a variety of jobs open. We took a look at them, the coaches poised for a promotion and the coaches whose jobs are in question.

Open Jobs

Iowa State head coach

The Cyclones had a strange 2023, after associate head coach Nilson Medieros Savage disappeared from team activities mid-season. Iowa State closed out the year at a disappointing No. 44, its lowest finish since at least 1998. Head coach Jay Ronayne was let go at the end of the year. He succeeded KJ Kindler in 2006 when she left for Oklahoma. Though seemingly never formally investigated, there were previous allegations of misconduct against the staff.

This role presents a new coach a chance to renew a program that has slipped since the pandemic. It seems like a perfect job for an up-and-coming head coach from a mid-major, or a promotion for a current assistant. 

Pittsburgh head coach

Pittsburgh announced a search for a new coaching staff in the wake of the Panthers’ failure to qualify to a home regional. Between hosting championship meets, moving to the ACC and investing in a pricey new training facility, Pittsburgh is no longer content to languish outside of the top 40. 

While she never could quite capitalize on the talent she brought to Pittsburgh, the Sam Snider era was marked by bold and exciting recruiting, especially of international athletes. Pitt will want to hire someone else who is an excellent recruiter in order to capitalize on one of its greatest strengths.

Sacramento State head coach

It’s hard to imagine Sac State without Randy Solorio. After almost four decades coaching the Hornets and surviving a recent battle with cancer, he’s certainly earned his retirement. Associate head coach Melissa Genovese is a frontrunner for this position, but there’s also a possibility that the Hornets will try something new.

Clemson assistant coach

We don’t have a lot of clues who will join Amy Smith and Erik Lewis to complete NCAA gymnastics’ newest Division I program. With plenty of talent to work with and an incredibly intense sports culture to enjoy, there’s a lot to love here if you’re an assistant coach looking for a change. 

Arizona State assistant coach

Co-head coach Jess Santos mysteriously disappeared off the Sun Devils’ roster in the fall and Arizona State spent the whole season down a coach. We can’t officially confirm that she’s not coming back, but Greg Marsden’s spreadsheet says the position is vacant and the spreadsheet is almost always correct.

Talladega assistant coach(es)

Talladega will join Fisk as the second HBCU program in 2024. The Tornados announced in February that Aja Sims-Fletcher is the inaugural head coach. It’s not yet clear how many assistants she will add to her staff, but the role or roles will be excellent opportunities for up-and-coming Black coaches to make a move.  

Utica assistant coach(es)

Similarly to Talladega, Utica will initiate its program in the 2024 season, helmed by Danielle Cerminario. With a wealth of club programs in the Upstate area, she has the opportunity to fill out her staff with either local talent or coaches already moving through the NCAA world.

Due for a Promotion

Jamie Wysong, Southern Utah

Southern Utah just completed another season in the top 25, cementing itself as one of the best non-Power 5 institutions in gymnastics. The staff has been incredibly consistent since 2015. While we’d say Scotty Bauman is due to move up in the gym world, we can’t see him leaving the Thunderbirds. Still, assistant Wysong should be appealing to programs looking to hire, should she want to make a move. She is the primary beam coach, and helped Stacie Webb on her way to her historic 10 on the event.

Ashley Kerr, Oklahoma

Kerr is an easy candidate to be converted from a volunteer assistant to a paid role when the new NCAA rule goes into effect. She has been with the Sooners for six seasons, assisting on beam. Her husband is the head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA team, so while we don’t expect Kerr to move to any other open roles, it would be logical that the Sooners would want to keep her on staff as a paid assistant.

Jeremy Miranda, Florida

Similar to Kerr, we expect Miranda to be converted from volunteer to paid assistant. He has been with the Gators since 2007 as a choreographer and general patterned shirt aficionado. His CV is impressive and he may simply not have the time to take on additional responsibilities that come with conversion to a paid position, but he’s certainly in the conversation. 

Marie Case Denick, North Carolina

Denick proved her mettle when she stepped in as the interim head coach for the Tar Heels in 2021. North Carolina is an institution that often produces coaches who move up through the gymnastics ranks (Amy Smith, Taylor Spears). While it seems unlikely that Denick would leave just as the Tar Heels are moving to the ACC, she’s certainly someone to keep an eye on in the coming seasons.

Kristen Harold, Texas Woman’s

Lisa Bowerman is known for hiring assistants who go on to do big things in gymnastics: Josh Nilson, Garrett Griffeth, and Stephen Hood all came up through her staff. Harold has been with the Division II powerhouse since 2018, and was promoted to associate head coach last year. She holds a number of accolades, and handles recruiting for the Pioneers. If she’s looking to make a move, she would likely be an appealing interview almost anywhere in the country.  

Sweet Redemption

Sarah Shire Brown, Penn State

The Nittany Lions had the single best year-over-year ranking improvement in the NCAA in 2023. After several years of not living up to the roster’s potential, Penn State had an outstanding season, capped by Cassidy Rushlow and Ava Piedrahita’s appearances as individuals at nationals. Coming in at No. 25 after a few years of sliding, Brown has righted the ship. With a number of three- and four-star recruits coming in over the next two seasons, the improved ranking could be here to stay.

Heather Brink, Nebraska

The Huskers struggled to find their identity after Dan Kendig’s departure, struggling especially in 2021 and 2022, when they missed regionals for the first time in program history and then repeated the disappointment. 2023 showed a marked improvement, returning to the NCAA postseason and bringing in all-arounder Sophia McClelland as a transfer. Recruiting remains a pace below the Kendig years, but Brink has commitments from three- and four-star athletes over the next two seasons that should keep the momentum moving in the right direction.

On the Hot Seat

Courtney Kupets-Carter, Georgia

The Gymdogs had a whole new look in 2023, shuffling the staff, bringing in key transfers, and welcoming a large and talented freshman class. The renewed team improved over 2022, but still finished at only No. 20. While most institutions would see that finish as a success, Georgia is a program that is used to coming out on top, and that ranking is still lower than any under Danna Durante or Jay Clark—both of whom Georgia let go—after the Suzanne Yoculan years. While it’s a step in the right direction, Kupets-Carter doesn’t quite seem out of the woods. The Gymdogs are bringing in the No. 3—Lily Smith—and No. 8—Holly Snyder—recruits in the country next year: How they are managed in their college transition seems crucial to Kupets-Carter’s future.

Randy Lane, LIU

Lane has been instrumental in growing the sport, including initiating the program at LIU and stepping in as the inaugural head coach. While it’s premature to worry about the rankings at a fledgling program with a small budget, more concerning is the Sharks’ turnover. Assistants moved on after two seasons, LIU only had one assistant in 2023, and many gymnasts transferred or have indicated their intent to transfer over the past two years, which is always something to watch. Lane has also hinted at thinking about retirement from coaching.

Nadalie Walsh, Illinois

The Illini undeniably had a strong year that was only marred by a terribly timed off performance—its worst of the season—at the Norman regional that led to a No. 29 finish. While Walsh should in no way be judged on that finish alone, Illinois has been fine but not seeing improvement since she took over in 2018. The program saw its first 10 on beam under her tenure, courtesy of Mia Takekawa, but has also seen huge waves of retirements. There’s also a pervasive  issue with freshman injuries: Top recruits continue to suffer season- or career-ending injuries after arriving on campus, including Mallory Mizuki, Katherine Klugman, and Makayla Green. While that’s not proof of any mismanagement, it is a pattern. Four-star recruit Olivia Coppola joins the Illini next year and could break the trend, which would be a good sign for Walsh’s future.

Jeff Graba, Auburn

Auburn had its best finish in program history—fourth—in 2022, but fell to No. 24 this year. As with Walsh, it’s not prudent to judge a coach on one off final ranking. That said, it’s possible that Sunisa Lee and the success she brought were a band aid to problems simmering under the surface. Without Lee and Derrian Gobourne, what does Auburn’s future hold? The pressure is on Graba to produce success within such a competitive athletic department, and his ability to do so for the post-Lee Tigers could define his future. Thankfully, Graba’s recruiting has been strong: Julianne Huff is a five-star recruit and the No. 10 gymnast in her class. She could be the key to Auburn and Graba’s success moving forward.

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Article by Emily Minehart, Rebecca Scally, and Brandis Heffner

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