Timeline: How Utah gymnastics coach Tom Farden went from the Final Four to leaving the Red Rocks

A look back at the coach’s tenure, investigation and departure from the U.

Steve Griffin | Tribune file photo University of Utah assistant coach Tom Farden works with gymnasts during practice at the Utah gymnastics practice facility on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City Friday March 30, 2012.

Tom Farden was riding high entering last spring, leading Utah Red Rocks gymnastics to a third straight Final Four appearance.

Seven months later, the longtime Utah gymnastics coach was out of a job.

This week, the U. released the details of Farden’s separation agreement with the university.

Below is a timeline of events that led to Farden’s departure from the University of Utah.

April 15 — Red Rocks place third in NCAA Final Four

Utah’s gymnastics team has been elite for several years, and the 2023 season was no exception. The Red Rocks closed the season with a third-place finish at the Final Four. It was the third consecutive reason they finished third.

While the team was disappointed in falling short yet again, Farden said at the time the team “took another step forward.”

Aug. 17 — Upgrades to the gymnastics facility

Farden and most of the Red Rocks were present for an unveiling of upgrades to the Dumke Gymnastics Facility. The coach said finishing the facility after an eight-year process “means the world.”

Aug. 27 — Deseret News first reports abuse allegations

Citing unnamed former Red Rocks gymnasts, staff members and parents, the newspaper published a report with allegations of verbal and emotional abuse. Among the allegations were gymnasts saying he belittled and berated them, and on some occasions threw objects at them in frustration.

That also article made public an independent investigation into Farden’s conduct that started in June and cost more than $150,000.

Sept. 5 — Former gymnasts defend Farden

Not every gymnast who competed for Farden at the U. thought his methods were questionable. Many former Red Rocks came out publicly to defend Farden and his coaching style.

Lia Del Priore, for example, said Farden would get “intense,” but she did not believe his behavior crossed “that line of aggressive.” She described him as the team’s “hype man.”

Mary Beth Lofgren had similar thoughts.

“He was extremely motivated and driven but also extremely concerned for his athletes and I always felt cared for and respected,” Lofgren said. “He wanted to make me a better athlete, but my safety and well-being and health were always first.

“I can’t speak for anybody but myself, but my experience with Tom Farden and the entire gymnastics program was nothing but positive,” she said. “I came out of that program better than when I went in.”

Sept. 14 — U. reveals findings of investigation

A report by Husch Blackwell, a Kansas City-based law firm the U. paid more than $150,000 to investigate Farden’s alleged abuses, exonerated the coach.

The report said that while there was an instance where the coach made a “derogatory comment,” his behavior did not reach the level of “severe, pervasive or egregious” acts of abuse as defined by the NCAA and SafeSport.

As a result, Farden got to keep his job. Athletic Director Mark Harlan said in a statement that he met with Farden “to express my disappointment and to share with him my expectations moving forward.” Farden, in his own statement, said he took “very seriously” the concerns that were raised about his coaching and behavior.

Farden was to be placed on a performance improvement plan, per five recommendations Husch Blackwell made to the university.

Oct. 24 — Kim Tessen speaks out

Tessen, who competed for Utah from 2016-2020, Tessen provided details about her experiences under Farden in an Instagram post less than two months after defending her teammates who detailed their own negative experiences.

The biggest issues, Tessen said, were that the athletes were “constantly being monitored.”

“It didn’t matter what we were doing, the coaches ‘always knew’ or would ‘always find out,’” her post said in part. “We received excessive criticism in everything we did, mainly from Tom. This is the main reason I lived with so much fear and anxiety.”

Tessen went on to say that she experienced “crippling” depression and anxiety while at Utah. She said she was “verbally attacked” several times “without any signs of sympathy,” and that her “physical boundaries were also violated” by way of Farden “yelling and pointing uncomfortably close” to her face.

Tessen also addressed those who defended Farden, saying in part: “We shouldn’t have to beg for our feelings to be recognized. We do not exist for your entertainment. We do not exist to maintain your reputation. We do not exist to be your moneymakers. If you’re still not going to do anything about this, I hope you at least hear the voices of the people asking for change.”

Oct. 31 — Kara Eaker announces retirement, accuses Farden of abuse

Despite the report’s findings, Farden and the U. continued to experience fallout from the allegations.

Former Red Rock Kara Eaker, who was entering her junior season, abruptly announced her retirement from gymnastics and said she’d be leaving the University of Utah as well. She said her “physical, mental and emotional health rapidly declined” during her time competing.

Eaker also criticized the investigation into Farden, saying it was “incomplete at best” and that she disagreed with the findings.

Nov. 8 — Farden signs top recruit

The gymnastics program kept on with business as usual, and landed some big recruiting wins during its offseason. The Red Rocks landed Avery Neff, the No. 1 recruit in the country who committed to Utah last year and signed her national letter of intent earlier this month.

The program also signed other high-level gymnasts, including Zoe Johnson, who has won a national championship at the high school level.

Nov. 12 — Farden placed on paid leave

The school said the leave was “not related to student-athlete welfare,” but for “recent conduct and actions” that “simply do not align with our values and expectations.”

Associated head coach Carly Dockendorf was named the interim head coach.

Nov. 20 — Washington Post article

In a story that addressed trouble in gymnastics from all over the country, it appeared that more clarity surfaced surrounding Farden and Utah.

The Washington Post reported that Farden’s lawyer, Brian C. Johnson, told the publication that Farden would “likely take appropriate legal action” against Eaker and Tessen making what he described as “false statements of fact.”

Johnson also told The Post that Farden was not planning on changing his coaching methods. Shortly after The Post asked the university about those comments, Farden was placed on leave, per the article.

Nov. 21 — Farden parts ways with Utah

Two days before Thanksgiving, Harlan announced Farden and the university “mutually agreed to part ways,” ending the coach’s tenure effective immediately. Dockendorf remained the interim coach.

“In this case, the decision provides necessary clarity and stability for our student-athletes and prevents further distraction from their upcoming season,” Harlan said in a statement.

Farden will be paid for 17 months of work — a total of $371,313 — after his resignation, per a separation agreement obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune.