Tom Farden’s days start as they have for many years now, with an 8-mile bike commute from his home in Holladay to the University of Utah. Outside of those solitary moments, everything else in Farden’s world is spinning like a bike tire on a steep downhill path.
Since then, Farden has hired three coaches, overseen some major renovations in the team’s training facility and continued his high-paced recruiting habits, which became even more urgent when star MyKayla Skinner announced she was leaving school a year early to pursue her Olympic dream.
Yep, for Farden, those bike rides are probably as much mental therapy as they are exercise, but the way he sees it, he was groomed by the best coaching mentors possible.
“The way the Marsdens went about things and the way we changed leadership allowed me to feel like someone hadn’t come by and filled my mouth with water from a garden hose,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’m drowning. This has been a very methodical and thought out process to let me take over this program.”
In a way, Farden’s presence in the Utah family is one of the last and biggest influences the Marsdens have had on this legendary program.
He was handpicked by the Marsdens as a possible successor when he was hired in 2011 as an assistant coach. He was known as a young, energetic, hard-working coach with good technical skills, making Farden just the kind of guy they wanted to take over the program.
As an assistant, he learned the nuances of the public relations and marketing side that has helped turn Utah gymnastics into the most popular women’s sport in the country, but that has been Megan Marsden’s responsibility.
Now that Megan has traded in her office in the Huntsman Center for the hiking trails with her husband, Farden is overseeing everything. That is an adjustment.
“She was way more out in the public, dealing with the media and helping the kids in so many facets,” he said. “When Greg retired, I focused on what he did which was out recruiting and it worked out well. Now I just need to have a more holistic vision of the program.”
One reason Marsden felt comfortable retiring now is because of the way Farden has developed.
“We feel like we are leaving this program in good hands,” Marsden said. “Tom has been a head coach before and he knows how to handle the head coaching duties in every aspect of the sport.”
Farden will be challenged by having one of the program’s youngest teams next year to go with a new coaching staff. Assistant Robert Ladanyi recently left for an assistant job at Nebraska and volunteer coach and choreographer BJ Das is now with UCLA.
Carly Dockendorf, the former director of recruiting and development, was promoted to assistant coach to replace Marsden and the husband and wife team of Garrett Griffeth and Courtney McCool Griffeth were hired to round out the coaching staff.
Farden says “we,” but he knows the program is considered his, with all the responsibilities that come with the head coaching position. What can fans expect to change? Not much, Farden said.
The Utes have had some recent disappointing finishes at nationals and haven’t won an NCAA Championship since 1995, but Farden believes the infrastructure for success is there, some things just need to be tweaked.
“I’ve been here almost a decade now and I know what the expectations are,” he said. “My own expectations are to be one of the best and we just have to figure out the pieces of the puzzle and put them together to allow Utah to win again. 2018 and 2019 left a bitter taste in our mouths and we have to refine this team so we can compete at the highest level.”
Farden has some ideas of how to do that and likely will continue to experiment with the lineups like he did in 2019 and put the team through more pressure situations. One thing he wants to make clear is that he isn’t satisfied now that he has the title of head coach.
“All I want to do is build a program to win championships,” he said. “I was attracted to Utah for the support and legacy of the program but we should dream the biggest dreams.”
That philosophy goes in-line with Mark Harlan, Utah’s first-year athletic director, who was familiar with Utah’s gymnastics success when he was the director of external relations at UCLA. He knew the program was a special one then, and expects it to continue to be a national competitor under Farden.
“Tom wants to win a championship and I want to win a championship,” he said. “I have no doubt that we will get there.”
In addition to the technical aspects of coaching, part of Farden’s responsibilities, he knows, is being the face of the program. He isn’t naturally a public figure like the Marsdens were, but he knows he is the figurehead now and is warming to that role.
“When I am out at the grocery store or with my family and not wearing Utah clothes, people still stop me and ask me how recruiting is going or they tell me they sit in section V row 15 and I love this and that,” he said. “There is an investment from the community and expectations of this program. I was reminded from that on Day 1 when I looked up during the first meet and saw 14,000 fans. All I could think was, ‘Dear God, don’t let me screw up on bars.’”
Farden continues to hope he isn’t going to screw things up, only now his responsibility is an entire program, not just one event.
Enjoy the bike rides coach, they might be the only peace you have for a while.
1999-2003 - Southeast Missouri assistant
2004-09 - Southeast Missouri head coach
2010 - Arkansas assistant
2011-15 - Utah assistant
2016-19 - Utah co-head coach
Southeast Missouri State, 2004
Hometown is Dayton, Minn., married to Christina Faulkner with a son, Ki