It is weeks before the biggest coaching debut of his career and what is Tom Farden doing? He isn’t studying potential lineups, breaking down film or overseeing a team workout. Nope, he is writing Christmas cards to donors.
Welcome to the big-time coach.
“In the past I had a defined role when both Greg and Megan were here,” he said of the Marsdens, the husband-wife duo who made Utah Gymnastics what it is. “Now I have total autonomy and the ultimate say is mine, but that means doing all the other stuff too.”
So Farden is dutifully performing tasks such as writing notes to donors and fulfilling media responsibilities. While he gladly embraces such chores, Farden didn’t make his way up the coaching ranks because he has pretty handwriting. He is known as an excellent recruiter who is also a very good nuts and bolts coach. He loves the challenge of putting together lineups that have both chemistry and talent and is a student of the technicalities of the sport.
So what can Utah gymnastics fans expect from a Farden team when the Utes open their season against Kentucky on Friday? The Red Rocks Preview was a good indication as the Utes debuted a variety of different beam mounts while the floor had a fresh look as well.
The new vibe can not only be credited to almost new lineups since the team returns only 10 of the 24 routines performed at the 2019 NCAA Championships, but also an entirely new coaching staff. Gone are co-coach Megan Marsden (retired), assistant Robert Ladanyi (Nebraska) and choreographer BJ Das (UCLA). They have been replaced by the husband-wife team from Arkansas in Garrett and Courtney McCool Griffeth, and Carly Dockendorf, who was promoted to assistant from director of recruiting and player development.
UTAH GYMNASTICS AT A GLANCE
Preseason ranking: No. 5
Season opener: Friday, 6 p.m. vs. Kentucky, at the Huntsman Center
Meet to watch: Feb. 3 at UCLA
Key returning gymnast: Two-time All-American Sydney Soloski
Team strength: The Utes finally have a “beam team,” after years of struggling on the event
Key newcomer: Emilie LeBlanc is a junior transfer from Maryland who can help the Utes on bars and beam in particular
Combine the coaching changes with the loss of three gymnasts who have played integral parts in Utah’s success recently in Kari Lee, MaKenna Merrell-Giles and MyKayla Skinner, and one has to acknowledge the Utes are entering a new era of uncertainty after years of stability.
However, as senior Missy Reinstadtler said, the freshness isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“Instead of trying to replace the team we had last year or past years, we are going to be our own team,” she said. “We are going to create our own energy and own way instead of replicating the past.”
Farden couldn’t agree with his gymnast more.
“I think it’s a brilliant approach,” he said. “We are so grateful for what the Marsdens have done, but we have to embrace that it is our time now. It is a tidal wave of change, but it’s also a new wave of excitement and intrigue, to see what Utah gymnastics is going to look like now.”
Farden will continue all the aspects of Utah gymnastics that have made the team so popular, such as the fancy intros and fan interaction opportunities. On the floor, he is continuing to change things as he learns, such as tweaking the practice schedule to make sure the team is at its best at the end of the season.
The Utes haven’t won a national title since 1995 and haven’t finished higher than fifth since placing second in 2015, despite some very good regular seasons. It is the postseason when the Utes have faltered, prompting Farden to put more emphasis on pressure situations in practice and lineup changes to keep the gymnasts pushing themselves.
“Our ultimate goal is to be at the top and it’s my coaching dream to win a national championship,” he said. “We are trying to balance out being consistent and peaking at the right time, at the end of the season when it really matters.”
The Utes lost some strong gymnasts, but Farden still has some experience to turn to for leadership in Reinstadtler, Kim Tessen and Sydney Soloski.
“They all have excellent qualities that make them leaders and they are better gymnasts than they were last year,” he said. “They hit that sweet spot of being a good leader but also having the gymnastics too.”
Others such as Cristal Isa and Cammy Hall have recovered from injuries and should make their presence known while newcomers Maile O’Keefe, Abby Paulson, Jillian Hoffman and Jaedyn Rucker will get their chances to earn key roles as well.
Those pieces, fitting gymnasts into the lineup here and there, are elements of coaching with which Farden is comfortable.
It’s the other things he is still learning, such as media duties and yes, even writing Christmas cards.