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Championships Ended, Then Everything Broke

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“I’ll take some time,” I thought. Let the events of the season and that thoroughly thrilling Super Six sink in for a while, and then at some point I’ll put together my final season thoughts and begin the way-too-early looking forward to next season. Surely there will be nothing major to talk about right away.

At that very moment, Rhonda Faehn swooped in going, “Mwahahahahahahahaha.”

This is a big deal. Two of the most prominent coaches in NCAA gymnastics (and the #1 and #2 finishers at last weekend’s championship) called it quits this week. Let’s start with Greg Marsden, because that was the not-so-surprising one. Marsden has been the head coach at Utah for 1150 years, won 10 national championships, singlehandedly invented women’s college gymnastics, and has been the sport’s most vocal and influential advocate for growth and improvement. (One of the silliest things about that “Sarah and Suzanne” doc last year was the implication that Sarah and Suzanne created women’s college gymnastics as a spectator sport. Everyone was like, “Um…Marsden?”)

College gymnastics without Greg Marsden will be strange and unfamiliar land, but his retirement doesn’t come as a shock because, over the last couple years, he had started scaling back some of his duties, with Megan taking on a lot more, and this year Tom Farden taking on more as well. A succession procedure had been put in place, and now Greg is stepping aside completely to allow Megan and Tom to be the new stars. Of all the recent major coaching changes, this should be the least disruptive to the team in the coming year. The only blip I would expect for Utah next season is the no-Dabritz blip. Otherwise, it really should be business as usual with the same group, style, and system.

But as one last tribute to Greg Marsden, the rest of college gymnastics really needs to pull itself together and finally adopt some of the good ideas he has been talking about for the last several centuries and that have never come to anything, like overhauling the postseason format and giving us a four-on-the-floor championship. Regardless of any live TV considerations, having four teams is just a better, more logical, and more fan-friendly format. The Marsden Cup. Get it done.

I also want to mention that I have tremendous respect for his decision to wait until the end of the season before making a public announcement about his retirement. He absolutely could have announced it before the year began and given himself a farewell tour with all the flowers and speeches and video tributes at every away meet. All of that would have been completely deserved, but I applaud his recognition that it’s always about the team rather than him. He doesn’t need to steal the limelight. Not a lot of coaches in his position would have made the same decision.

But now let’s get to the WTF stuff. Today, just as the Marsden-retirement embers were dying out, Rhonda Faehn announced that she is leaving Florida to snatch the job of Senior VP of the Women’s Program for USA Gymnastics. Cue the “Guuuu-waaaaaah?”

Yeah, so Rhonda is gone now. Which is bizarre. She got her three titles, and then adios! I don’t even know what to do with that. We’ll miss your white pants, Gator tank tops, general gymnastics nerdiness, and championships. And now she’s heading into the belly of the elite beast.  One last chance to pull out this one.

It’s going to get weird now, and this opens up a lot more questions than Marsden’s retirement does. It’s a much more dramatic scenario. Who’s going to take over? Is Adrian (and/or Robert) getting a promotion? Which means you’ll finally have to learn which one is which. Will they try to hook a successful head like Jeff Graba? Or will they strike out and pull a Georgia by trying to poach Cal’s rising-star coaches? Let the speculation begin. It may be a shallow thought, but to try to keep some of these young elite verbals, I do think they’ll need to go the “cool, young coach” route. You want someone who is potentially going to be there for a while (unless she leaves for USAG) to build something stable again, as well as someone who is going to be a believable, social media-savvy, emoji-using BFF-type to appeal to the ever-younger commits.   

And what will happen to all these verbal commitments for future classes? Rhonda herself has been the huge factor in the success Florida has experienced over the last several years in attracting so many elites to Florida. Wouldn’t you want to be coached by Rhonda? I’m very interested to see if these gymnasts still want to come to Florida if they’re not coming for Rhonda. Watch for a potential exodus. If one NT domino falls, the rest will follow. Which could be gold for some of the other top programs.

Regardless of who takes over or what happens to some of these future commits, Florida still has an incredibly talented and accomplished roster for 2016. They should be able to continue their prosperity under someone else (Bridget Sloan is still Bridget Sloan), but how much of the luster is gone now? Will there be some degree of hitting restart, reputation-wise?

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