The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

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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