And None for Kristen Smyth, Bye

Well, we can’t say it hasn’t been coming…

Last night, at the most inconvenient possible time, Stanford announced that Kristen Smyth has “stepped down” as head coach. You know, like coaches totally normally do for perfectly normal reasons right before the school year is about to start. Nothing to see here…

She just happened to decide to step down.

I also love that they tried to bury the story on a Friday night like they think they’re in an episode of The West Wing. You’re college gymnastics, and the gymternet is seven days a week.

A couple weeks ago, I joked that Stanford would have to poach Katie Minasola from EMU to become the new head coach (because that’s what you do), which was my way of saying that I *may* have heard through the gymternet rumor mill that a certain head coach was under administrative investigation and that it was getting real. Apparently it got real faster than I expected.

My assumption is that “stepping down” means she was given the option of “we can keep reviewing, or you can just leave,” and Kristen went, “BYE.”

Beyond that, we’ve also known for a long time that Stanford is too talented and established a program, too appealing a place to go to college, to be languishing in the rankings and not putting up competitive meets week in and week out.

What saved Smyth for many years was the occasional successful season, when the strategy of being terrible for half the year and then pulling it together right at the end actually worked out. We saw this as recently as 2015, when that Price/Hong/Vaculik/Shapiro/Rice squad ultimately finished fifth. Which…they better. Look how good that team was. But that was also the team that started the year with a joke meet (we hope?) that consisted two-person lineups and negative scores. FUN.

What became clear is that those good seasons were too few and far between and seemed only to happen when the roster was too talented not to, certainly not every year and not necessarily because of anything the coach was doing to get the team—regardless of the elite-level talent present in a given year—into competitive form.

It has also become fairly distressing for Stanford that rival Cal, a team that is basically always on the brink of the breadline and has to make do with far less than Stanford in terms of facilities and support, has now surpassed Stanford in both results and attendance. Last season it wasn’t close in either regard.

As for the future, this is a very inconvenient time to be searching for a new head coach. I imagine all the people who just went after and got new head coaching jobs are like, “Couldn’t we have known about this three months ago?” Meanwhile, all the disgraced head coaches of the last year showed up to the Stanford AD’s office this morning like

We could see a new head coach named before the season begins if someone has been hanging around outside for the last couple weeks going, “PICK ME PICK ME,” but I also wouldn’t be surprised if we see Chris Swircek named as interim head coach to take charge for now, allowing for a less-rushed search process.

The new coach will have a treasure trove of a freshman class to work with (among the strongest in the country) along with the benefit of a relatively low bar at this point. If the team is healthy and conditioned enough to put up six routines on every event in the first meet, the new coach will be hailed as a triumphant genius.

Aside from…like actually preparing for the season?…another major focus for the new coach at Stanford must be transparency, promotion, and outreach. Stanford is somewhat famous for its Eastern Bloc 1970s attitude of treating its women’s gymnastics program like it’s a secret munitions factory made of spy satellites. We basically had to track that team on Google Earth. It was as close as anyone was getting.

That’s a big reason why 3.5 people attend every meet.

How do you expect people to get behind your team if they don’t know anything about it and don’t feel connected to it? Stanford has to begin making even the slightest effort to have a fan base. Revolutionary stuff here, I know. Social media. Videos. News. Have a personality. Cultivate an identity. Let people in. It would help a lot. Stanford has no business with attendance under 1000. START TRYING.

This upheaval presents the opportunity to do just that. With the stellar 2017-2018 freshman class and the hope of a new coaching philosophy and team identity, the future has suddenly become an exciting prospect for Stanford. We all needed it.

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22 thoughts on “And None for Kristen Smyth, Bye”

    1. I don’t think she applied for any of the other positions. She did a good job at UGA and was able to get them to Super Six 3-of-5 years, which most programs would kill for. She also did better in 2017 then most people expected – I know I had UGA not making it out of regionals.

      The only place she may struggle is the promotion part, which she could hire a good assistant to take the lead on marketing/promotion.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Of the recently selected head coaches, Amy Smith and Meredith Paulecivic seem like they would have been the front runners.

    Stanford is a plum gig in some ways and not in others — in particular, the new head coach will need to navigate Stanford being Stanford, which means not amazing salaries (given the cost of living), relatively low athletic department financial investment in the program (this is no Utah, Georgia, etc), and competitive academic admissions by an admissions department that will not kowtow to athletes without APs and good grades (and won’t offer admission before the summer before senior year of HS). That said, for academically inclined gymnasts, it’s obviously a huge draw, and SWG has had immense talent. If the new coach swings it right, negotiating good salaries (for the HC and assistants and/or some sort of housing allowance) and more money for the program (see: support for streaming meets, social media, etc), they’d be off to a great start.

    I’ve always heard good things about Chris Swircek — he’s amiable, funny, a great technical coach accordingly by to athletes, parents, alums, and other coaches. Maybe he could bring Diane Amos back to CA from Yale, as they coached Amy Chow together, and that would bring the beam coach they’ll need. I could see that being a good interim situation that could turn permanent or hand off a more stable program to…. Amy Smith? Randy Lane? Tom Farden? Who knows?

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  2. Hoping Stanford brings back Tree Talk, which was their version of “get to know the gymnasts”, much like UCLA’s Bruin Banter or Carpool Karaoke.

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  3. I hope Stanford becomes a power program. They are so good at so many sports. Not sure why women’s gym should be an exception.

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  4. Why didn’t they do this when all the other programs were looking for new coaches? The school year starts in a few weeks who are they going to get to leave a program they are with right before season starts? There going to have to hire within or get someone who was a good club coach. Good decision bad timing. You think Renee Lyst would apply? That’s where she was before but her reputation isn’t so good anymore

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    1. When Rene Lyst was there , they were like 5th in the nation and made nationals , since she left they have been underachievers with great talent.

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      1. Uhhh, if you talk to any alum who was there for the Cooks, you’ll get a rather different portrait. Some of the gymnasts who were there for both the Cooks and Smyth will tell you that they were woefully underprepared under the Cooks. The best finish — 3rd at NCAAs — happened under Smyth, in her 2nd or 3rd year there, not under the Cooks. Rene Lyst would be a disaster for the program, and it’s not like imploding at ASU is exactly the boost Stanford is looking for.

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  5. I’m surprised no one has thrown out Tabitha Yim yet. I don’t think she would leave Arizona so close to the school year, but if Stanford goes the interim route now, they could bring in Yim after the season. A Stanford grad with head coaching experience and seems like a coach gymnasts really like and respect — win/win.

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    1. I like Tabitha and the fact that she understands Stanford’s overall culture is a plus. However, I’d really like to see her establish herself more as a head coach before thinking she should take the Stanford job. I personally think Stanford needs to hire someone whose coaching mentor wasn’t Kristen Smyth. However, Stanford really went downhill after Tabitha left so perhaps Tabitha was a positive presence in the program. Definitely pros and cons.

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  6. This should be a good move for Stanford and women’s gymnastics in general. Stanford has won the Directors Cup EVERY YEAR since 94-95. That’s ridiculous, unprecedented, and not talked about enough. Seriously, Stanford is good in pretty much every sport every year. There’s absolutely no reason why gymnastics shouldn’t be the same. I’m a Utah fan and I’d love to see the Pac-12 join the SEC having 3-4 teams with a legitimate chance at winning Nationals every year.

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  7. Prior to last year, Stanford had 11 consecutive years in the top 15 with 5 of those years in the top 5. That is an impressive record especially when you have a smaller talent pool to recruit from because of Stanford’s high academic requirements. It’s a shame if this past year’s record is the reason for this. Kristen recruited an amazing incoming freshman class that will definitely bring Stanford back into the top 10 again and maybe a national championship – she should be there for that!

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