Now that Georgia has made it official and told us all what we already know, it’s time for a few thoughts.
In some respects, Danna Durante is walking into unprecedented territory. Georgia, Utah, and Alabama are unmatched in terms of fan support and expectations, both for results and for the attitude of the program, and Utah and Alabama have not experienced coaching changes. Even Jay’s ascension at Georgia was originally part of a smooth transition where he was already part of the family. This is the first outside hire quite of this magnitude (you could compare it to Rhonda coming in at Florida, but they’ve never won championships, so it’s different), so it will be fascinating to watch how the fans react to Danna. Also, she should know that it’s very difficult for me to pronounce her name like Dana since it has a double n. For now, she’s Danna, rhymes with Hannah.
Durante’s every action in the first season will be scrutinized, and she will have even less benefit of the doubt than Jay did because she is a newcomer. From the beginning, it will be important for her to go out of her way to develop relationships with the boosters and make it clear that she has championship expectations for this team immediately. They will not accept any less.
In another interview, she said that it’s unrealistic for someone to win every year and that this team is capable of getting back to Super Six. The problem with that statement is that it’s true. For a team and a fan base with those championship expectations, she needs to sound a bit more enthusiastic about the prospects for the team, even if it’s a lie. If you’re expecting to finish fifth, you’re going to finish fifth at best. That wouldn’t be an immediate problem for her job security since it would be an improvement over Jay, but it would wear thin very quickly for this school. Georgia wants to be told that the team is going to win.
We’ve also heard news that she has removed Doug McAvinn from his position. This is perfectly natural and expected for an outside coach, but it will still sting Georgia fans and will hurt the team’s vaulting in the short run. Through the upheaval of the last few years, McAvinn was the constant, and the fans are very attached to him. Those who were willing to throw support behind Durante’s regime may have taken one small step back. Will she be able to find a vault coach with comparable skills right now? It’s doubtful.
In all, I don’t expect much change in results from Jay’s tenure right away. It will take a few seasons for this new coaching staff to find its place and get the team together, but Durante is just as capable of being successful as any other new head coach (even though she’s had one year at Cal, she’s essentially a rookie, especially on this stage). It will be interesting to watch how the Georgia gymnastics community reacts to her over the course of the year and whether she can keep that attendance level, or even bring it back up.