The University of Utah has ordered an investigation into its gymnastics program and head coach Tom Farden.
Farden has been accused by former gymnasts and their parents of verbally and emotionally abusing his athletes and physically intimidating them, according to a report by the Deseret News published Sunday night.
The university hired law firm Husch Blackwell to conduct an independent investigation into the matter, university spokesperson Christopher Nelson confirmed. The review began in July, he said, and a report with the findings is expected in the coming weeks.
“The well-being and safety of our student-athletes is of the utmost importance to the University of Utah and our Athletics Department,” Nelson said in a statement. “The University is committed to ensuring our student-athletes feel respected, supported and safe. This includes providing our student-athletes with access to campus and community resources as needed, whatever the situation.”
Five former gymnasts, four parents and two former staff members spoke to the Deseret News on condition of anonymity, per the report.
They accused Farden of creating a “toxic” environment in which he verbally degraded gymnasts, pressured gymnasts not to communicate with their families, expected gymnasts to perform despite being injured or suffering from mental health issues, throwing objects around the gym or at gymnasts themselves, and rewarding and encouraging gymnasts to report on teammates’ lives on and off the mat. Some gymnasts said Farden played favorites and threatened to take away scholarships when gymnasts were not performing well.
The two former staff members alleged he “berated” them during meetings in his office and made them feel “so small,” according to the report.
On Monday, some of Farden’s former gymnasts and colleagues offered support for the coach.
Kari Lee, who graduated from the U. in 2019, was coached by Farden for five years and still has a relationship with him.
“Yeah, there were days that were rough and tough,” Lee told The Salt Lake Tribune. “Some of the coaches had to get on me because I wasn’t my 100%. But that’s just how it is. Someone has to be that person to push you. And if you’re at this top university, there’s a high expectation that is expected of you.”
Cristal Isa, who competed for Utah from 2019-23, including a voluntary fifth year, also backed her former coach.
“It’s crazy that this is all coming out now,” she said. “I lived through all these years and the events described weren’t my experiences.”
Among the accusations reported by the Deseret News were times when Farden allegedly threw things at gymnasts. Isa said there was an instance when he threw a brush used on the uneven bars during a meet. Isa said she believed Farden “didn’t throw it at a gymnast, he chucked it into oblivion” but that a gymnast happened to be in the area.
“No one involved in this situation really thought much of it and we didn’t think to ask the girls at the chalk box how they felt watching it,” she said.
Utah athletics officials said current gymnasts have already spoken to investigators as part of the process.
“The outside firm conducting the review interviewed every current gymnast who was willing to participate and provide their perspectives, and the report will be made public after it has been made available to the university,” Utah Associate Director of Communications Mady White said in a statement. “We anticipate getting the report very soon.”
Farden appeared with the majority of the team at a ribbon-cutting event for upgrades to the gymnastics facility less than two weeks ago.
Farden joined the Utes as an assistant in 2011 and as the uneven bars coach, coached Georgia Dabritz to the 2015 NCAA bars title. She also earned the distinction of becoming the only gymnast in history to score a 10.0 on the bars in both the NCAA semifinals and Super Six.
Farden became co-head coach with Megan Marsden in 2016 when longtime Red Rocks leader Greg Marsden retired. When Megan Marsden joined her husband in retirement at the end of the 2019 season Farden was the chosen heir apparent.
“In my experience, Tom was always a professional and positive, caring coach,” Megan Marsden said.
Prior to his time at Utah, Farden coached at Southeast Missouri State from 2000-2009, five of those years as head coach.