Things Are Happening – April 25, 2017

It’s an emergency Tuesday edition of Things Are Happening because Things. Are. Happening. Well, one thing in particular.

A. (But also B…and C through S.) GEORGIA

So, the Georgia died.

In case you were laboring under the misapprehension that the NCAA season ended after Super Six, let me get you up to speed on all upsets that have been recorded since then.

Georgia qualified to nationals this season, but from the moment the team boarded the Hindenburg for their trip to St. Louis, it was all a little…

The meet ended with a 195.800 and a last-place finish after everyone scored a 2 on everything.

And I know exactly what you’re thinking: this sounds like it was Jasmine Arnold’s fault!

Once Georgia returned from nationals, the Gymdogs became the first-ever team to count a fall on beam after the season ended with the bizarre announcement that Danna Durante had called Natalie Vaculik, Jasmine Arnold, and Caroline Bradford into her office and said,

At first, Danna said, “I feel like there should be as much confusion and as many random rumors as possible about this, so I’m not going to say anything and just let this weirdness sit there. That works always.”

Shockingly, that ended up being a poor choice, so she called up Emily Giambalvo and was like, “Instead, I’ve decided to make everything worse,” adding an official comment on the situation:

“Dismissal makes them sound like a problem, which they weren’t.”

Yeah, it was one of those “congratulations” dismissals. You know those? They were dismissed from the team just for being so gosh darn great.

Not helping.

This didn’t make a ton of sense to a lot of people (i.e., me) because, first of all, like you just realized that Arnold and Bradford aren’t going to contribute competition routines? Breaking news. As for Natalie Vaculik, she was sick at the beginning of the season, came back for a couple bars routines, but was never totally recovered enough to train at full strength consistently or get into the final lineup. Still, a healthy Vaculik contributes a lineup-worthy bars routine, a possible beam (yikes, but the whole team is yikes), and a backup vault. That’s a useful member of the team.

The whole dismissal went over super well.

Who knew that gymnastics people would react strongly? Almost unimaginable.

So, if it wasn’t about gymnastics performance, they weren’t “a problem” (seemingly ruling out disciplinary or academic issues), and they didn’t choose to leave the team (dismissal), then what exactly was going on here?

Clearly, something was happening that we don’t know about, but it’s one of those frustrating college gymnastics situations where coaches/programs try to maintain a level of secrecy that’s just not tenable, especially for a very public decision like dismissing three gymnasts. Coaches want huge crowds and passionate fan bases, but then when something happens they don’t want to talk about (like dismissals), they suddenly try to act like this is Level 6 where they don’t have to be accountable to anyone. You can’t have it both ways.

When something weird happens, you have to explain yourself.


Yesterday evening, word comes that Danna Durante herself has been fired.


So, the lesson is…don’t cross a Vaculik?

Lots to unpack here. Particularly, the question of whether firing Durante was based on performance because…her overall season finishes were pretty solid. This year’s team could have and should have finished better than 12th (this was an 8th-9th kind of team), but it was also a down year in terms of talent and wasn’t really a Super Six-level squad.

While Durante has not been a miracle-worker in terms of taking unknown Level 10s and making them into national stars in the way, say, KJ did at Iowa State/early Oklahoma, the Durante teams at Georgia have (overall) fulfilled their potential and met the expectations we would have for these gymnasts. Durante did more, and with less, than Jay Clark did in his three years. These aren’t Suzanne results, but these aren’t Suzanne gymnasts. So, then, you can say recruiting is the problem, but the future classes already look(ed) stronger.

Sure, the dismissal stuff was super weird and handled terribly.

So, maybe there has been extra nonsense going on behind the scenes, but if we’re just talking about performance and where coaches stand in the “being crazy” rankings, Durante wasn’t on my list of coaches that needed to be fired. I thought she was doing a pretty good job with what she had.

The one I feel for in this is Samantha Durante, who was set to start at Georgia next year—without a scholarship because her mom was the head coach. Now it’s like, “Well, crap.” She’s a top recruit who would be on scholarship at tons of schools (so why would you stay at Georgia right after they fired your mom, without a scholarship?), but it’s quite late now. If I’m a coach with a scholarship still open for next year, I’m making some calls today.

What this means for the three gymnasts who were dismissed (or for Lauren Johnson who was looking for a fifth year) is still up in the air since the new head coach will probably have some views on the topic, but we don’t know who the new head coach is yet. The new head will have a lot to work with (at least theoretically given the incoming classes), so we could get into discussing possible cool, young coach nominees.


(This GIF obviously refers to Suzanne. I shouldn’t have to explain these things.)

Give her all the golden stilettos she wants. Pay her in airports. WE NEED THIS.

Watch, Georgia announces tomorrow that they’ll be interviewing Rachelle Thompson, Rene Lyst, Jim Stephenson, and Kathie Klages for the position.

T. Kim Landrus

Also yesterday, we learned that Illinois and Kim Landrus have parted ways, which would have been a story, but Georgia was like, “Pa ha ha, you’ll have to try harder than that. What’s an Illinois?”

So as of now, we already have head-coach openings at Georgia, Illinois, Penn State, Michigan State, and NC State. It’ll be an interesting month…

U. Lacy Dagen and Ashley Hiller

Two more bite the dust, as both Lacy Dagen and Ashley Hiller have been released from Florida. The school, not the state. Although……genie, you’re free.

It’s a bloodbath around here these days. Dagen has been on scholarship at Florida but missed her freshman year with a torn ACL and nearly all of this most recent season with a torn meniscus. She’s not the first gymnast who has had injury problems and then chose to leave to try her luck at actually getting healthy elsewhere, rather than medically retiring or something. (And then there’s Baumann who elected to stay home to rehab her injury rather than being at Florida.) You wonder about a trend…

The latest development on the Dagen front is the news that Jazzy Foberg will be graduating a year early and joining Florida for next season. I guess we know where the free scholarship is going. Look how that worked out! Florida did the same thing when Colussi-Pelaez transferred to Oregon State, allowing Alex McMurtry to join a year early.

Hiller, a walk-on, was a necessary backup on floor last season when the lack of depth required it, and she has a competition-usable vault. She’s not going to make a lineup with a full-strength Florida team, but her 9.7s would be useful on many lower-ranked teams. I could totally see her getting a scholarship for her last couple years on other teams where she would actually compete.

V. Honda Award

Speaking of injured Florida gymnasts, Alex McMurtry won the Honda Award, which is awarded to the gymnast who was the most bestest at being great during 2017. She now advances to compete against the winners of the Honda Award in the other women’s sports to see who is the best woman. Overall.

W. GymCastic

We’re off this week sipping mai tais and being fanned by our loyal housemen Sven and Julio, but we’ll be back next week with an episode all about Euros and this Georgia nonsense.

X. Beam routine of the week

Danna, we hardly knew ye.

(Also, Bart, what are you saying about?)

29 thoughts on “Things Are Happening – April 25, 2017”

  1. So, my thought was the walk-ons weren’t doing the walk-on job of getting straight As to keep the team GPA up, but only Cs like they were starters or something. But who knows what is going on there now.

    1. Arnold was named to the SEC honor roll, so I doubt grades were an issue for her.

  2. I thought Vaculik, at least, was on scholarship. Am I wrong? Can you dismiss a scholarship athlete for reasons other than disciplinary issues, etc?

  3. Indeed, lots to impact here.
    My first thought is that Danna, Jay, and Phil always struck me as fine, nice people who care about their athletes. I don’t know believe Danna has that killer instinct to win championships and I think the team overall has suffered from a lack of confidence. Watching them against stronger teams (that LSU meet…) these past few years has made this more obvious.
    That said, they had some great recruits coming in and I felt we’d know the true measure of Danna’s coaching by how they ended up doing. Moot point now.

  4. Assuming all the recruits stick with the plan and head to UGA… a coaching change often leads to one or more recruits de-committing and looking elsewhere. (The only recruits that have no choice or a limited one are those who have already signed their NLI.)

    What’s interesting is the final Jay Clark recruit is still at UGA and will graduate in 2018 (Sanders).

  5. I’m wondering if Dagen is in a similar situation as Ernst was last year, where Florida wanted her to medically retire, but she decided she wasn’t done with gymnastics yet and decided to go elsewhere. Also, I wonder if she’s going to pull a Silvia Colussi-Pelaez and go to Oregon State, since her sister will be there in a couple of years as well haha

    In regards to Hiller, from what I understand, she was on a two year scholorship, so I suppose Florida didn’t want to renew it since she’s barely competed at all. Hopefully she’ll end up somewhere where she’ll be able to make more lineups!

    1. It sounds like Dagen came to them asking for a release, no medical retirement involved.
      Hiller’s scholarship was up, they didn’t have one to offer.
      Ultimately I hope they both will find other places where they’ll get more line up time. FL isn’t losing any routines after this year, and IS going to bring some in with the Freshmen class I imagine. So good call for them!

    2. Looks like Dagen’s scholarship will go to Foberg who is joining UF in Sept. 2017 (a year early).

  6. “Coaches want huge crowds and passionate fan bases, but then when something happens they don’t want to talk about (like dismissals), they suddenly try to act like this is Level 6 where they don’t have to be accountable to anyone. You can’t have it both ways.”

    I mean, can we imagine if, say, college football practiced the same level of information-sharing as gymn programs typically do?

    1. They often do. The difference is that ESPN would dig up the dirt on Alabama or Ohio St dismissing players. The schools would likely remain as quiet as possible, partially due to educational privacy laws and partially to cover their own asses, but ESPN would get the story from a leak (often big time donors/boosters).

  7. Meanwhile Kristen Smyth is in Palo Alto sipping a cocktail with her feet up . . .

    1. Seriously! The Stanford AD should kick Smyth out and bring in Durante. Georgia didn’t have any issues making Nationals and had several Super Six appearances. Plus, they won two individual titles last year.

  8. Danna and Jenny @ Florida are supposedly “best friends” – I wonder if Danna’s daughter could be changing it up and heading to Florida.

  9. This. Is. EVERYTHING!!

    Literally read it three times. Keep it up Spencer, I’ve enjoyed your blogs all season!!

  10. The background music during that Danna beam is, I think, the score from the Michael J Fox star vehicle The Secret of My Success? And thus the 1987est thing that has ever 1987ed.

  11. I thought it was St Elmo’s Fire soundtrack.

    Ironic that Durante was so solid on beam.

  12. Indeed, what WAS Bart saying about? Some of that was just … I mean … the 5 inches thing alone.

    1. I could NOT.listen to that commentary during Dana ‘s was cringe- worthy bad and I had to.mute it. The trick for beam is to stay on it? Really now? i thought they were supposed to fall on ever skill? And that comment about the 5 inches is so WRONG !!!
      BTW now I know whom Shannon was copying with her fringes.

  13. One of the anonymouses “Meanwhile Kristen Smyth is in Palo Alto sipping a cocktail with her feet up . . .” LOLOLOLOL. I wonder if a pre-season conditioning coach would help…(also UCLA….I know, I know, I know…but, they usually pull it together the last week of the entire season…yada yada).

  14. I wonder how Durante would do at Penn State. I kind of like the combo on the surface.

    Maybe Rhonda wants to part ways with USAG after the abuse horrorshow and will take the job at UGA. Mwahaha.

    1. I like that pairing. I would also like to see Ohio State switch it up and make a coaching change. I think Durante would be a good fit for their program, too.

      The MSU opening is interesting. You couldn’t pay me enough to sign on at MSU right now. Their entire athletic department is in shambles and it’s not just Nassar, though he’s certainly the biggest piece of it. I suspect MSU will either keep the interim coach or bring in a former MSU gymnast. I just can’t imagine anyone willingly wanting to jump in that dumpster fire. They should allow all MSU gymnasts to transfer with no restrictions.

      1. YES on a coaching change at Ohio State. While I don’t know what happened behind the scenes at Illinois or UGA I would imagine that Carey Fagan was ranked much higher on Spencer’s “list of crazy coaches” than Durante & Landrus.

        I think with the overall strength of Ohio State’s athletic department and the amount of talented gymnasts to recruit in Ohio there’s no reason why the Ohio State program can’t be at least on par with Michigan and contending for Big Ten titles.

        A huge missing piece of the Ohio State program (in addition to issues with Fagan) is marketing, fan outreach, and engagement. Danna didn’t seem to like doing that at Georgia (IMO) so I’m not sure I see her as the right fit for OSU unless that changes.

      2. Totally agree on a coaching change needed for Ohio State…Carey Fagan is getting pretty much the same money as Durante did (5 NCAA appearance es, 3 Super Six) , and what does OSU get for that? One 12th place finish that was more an anomaly than anything….and consistent finishes in the 24-25 area…

        And yes, I agree with anonymous, Fagan should be sky high on the list of crazy, nasty coaches. Fagan has a total disconnect with her team and the program and does zero to market it to fans and recruits….a program and school like Ohio State should be able to sell itself…instead, Fagan turns people OFF from the program and school. There are many JO club coaches that won’t have Ohio st even look at their gymnasts because her reputation and how she treats her athletes. She’s smack in the middle of a strong region and most gymnasts won’t even consider Ohio St, and it’s because of her.

      3. I’m Anon from April 26 @11:44. To add to my previous post, I think that Ohio State should fire Carey Fagan right now and make a call to Sam Muhleman Brown before another school snatches her. Sam grew up in Ohio (so could potentially be interested) and has proven that she’s willing to put athlete well being before anything else. That’s what the Ohio State program needs.

  15. I’m an alum and fan of UGA, so this whole situation saddens me. We don’t know all the details, but it seems that McGarity has NO knowledge of gymnastics and is completely delusional in his expectations.

    That being said, this recap gives me LIFE. I laughed so hard at the “I know what you’re thinking. This sounds like Jasmine Arnold’s fault!” that my husband came in from the other room to make sure I was okay. Keep it up, Spencer. You’re doing God’s work for NCAA gymnastics fans.

  16. She’s 5 inches wide?! What the hell does that mean Bart?! Haha 🙈

    Also, this Georgia drama is bananas. I wonder if another school will take her this year or if the weird circumstances going on now will hinder her chances at that right away.

  17. Sam Brown would be a good choice to replace Fagan as she would probably be better at promoting the program and definitely would be a better advocate for the athletes…even from a purely coaching stanpoint, Fagan does zilch to coach her athletes up…besides Mattern, not one other 10.0 SV vault …and the change was announced a year before so plenty of time to get some in the works.

    Why Gene Smith hasn’t fired Fagan yet with her mediocre results , considering some of the talent she’s had on paper, is baffling…even fiscally, you could pay someone half her salary to suck at coaching..

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