All of a sudden, the best NCAA women’s gymnastics team in the country is without its longtime leader.
Less than one week after leading the Lady Gators to a 3rd NCAA team gymnastics championship, Rhonda Faehn announced she was leaving to become the Senior Vice President of the Women’s Program for USA Gymnastics. “I will always love the University of Florida and will treasure my time here,” she said. “But my passion and excitement for Elite gymnastics is pulling me a different direction and the timing is right for me and my family.”
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said of Faehn’s departure, “I have such mixed emotions right now. Of course, I’m happy for this wonderful opportunity for Rhonda. She will continue to make a difference in young athlete’s lives with USA Gymnastics, just like she’s done at Florida. But also there is sadness. Rhonda came in here 13 years ago, sharing our vision that Florida could be a national contender. She went to work and made that vision a reality. And in the last three years, she taken this program from nationally prominent to national champion. She’s done an absolutely spectacular job.”
There’s no doubt that while he was “happy for this wonderful opportunity,” Foley had to have felt at least a tinge of exasperation at having to fix something that wasn’t broken.
As an aside, I commend Foley for his grace. It’s one thing to handle a change well when you sense it coming, and change is needed in order to get better. It’s another thing entirely to be graceful when the change is sudden, and you’re in the middle of your most successful stretch in school history.
We’ll see how the move effects the program as time moves forward. The next season or two shouldn’t show much of a change in performance as the recruiting classes are set. Plus, Florida is one of the premier collegiate gymnastics jobs in the country. Florida should have no problem filling the role with a quality candidate. But as we saw at Georgia in 2010 with Jay Clark, having a quality replacement on paper sometimes doesn’t work out.
For Faehn and USA Gymnastics, I get the feeling that this is going to be a move that pays large dividends. There hasn’t been a remark about this on the record, but this move appears to not be about fixing something that’s broken, but keeping a GREAT thing going.
The USA Gymnastics women’s team has won 79 World and Olympic medals since 2001 under the direction of national team coordinator Martha Karolyi. However, Karolyi is 72 and there have been murmurs of retirement after the 2016 Olympic Games. USA Gymnastics needs a solid succession plan. Fifteen months before the Rio Olympics is a good time to have the next in line start chalking up.
Faehn with her experience — not only as a top-level collegiate coach, but also as an elite gymnast (she actually trained with the Karolyis) — knows the ropes. She’s demonstrated the ability to compose teams and lead them to showcasing their greatest potential under the brightest lights when it matters most. In my opinion, she would make a great national team coordinator. But, if she doesn’t end up in that position specifically, she’s just a good gymnastics person to have around.