Rhonda Faehn, head coach of the three-time national champion University of Florida gymnastics program, announced her decision to accept a position at USA Gymnastics this morning.
The decision comes as a huge shock after Faehn brought the Gators to their third title in a row at NCAA Championships in Fort Worth, Texas just six days ago. But after 13 years with her “opportunity of a lifetime” job in Florida, Faehn stated that her “passion and excitement for elite gymnastics is pulling [her] in a different direction,” adding that the timing is right for both her and her family.
“I would like to thank the Florida administration, my staff and all my current and former student-athletes for helping to build such an amazing tradition of excellence,” Faehn stated in a press release on the Florida Gators website. “I know the program will continue to thrive and I will always be a Florida Gator.”
Faehn will act as the Senior Vice President of the Women’s Program, officially beginning her duties on May 11. “Rhonda brings an incredible background to this role, President Steve Penny said in press release by USA Gymnastics. “Our women’s program has seen tremendous growth and success over the years, and Rhonda’s experiences as an athlete and coach will be valuable assets in this role. She has outstanding relationships with many of our national team staff and coaches, along with an exceptional understanding of what it takes to succeed at the highest level of the sport.”
In addition to her incredible list of accomplishments at Florida, Faehn did an exceptional job in terms of recruiting, adding tons of current and former elites to the recruiting classes of 2016 through 2019. 2014 World gold medalists Alyssa Baumann and Ashton Locklear as well as junior national champions Bailie Key and Jazmyn Foberg are among these recruits, and the future roster also includes Lacy Dagen, Peyton Ernst, Maegan Chant, Rachel Gowey, Amelia Hundley, Vanasia Bradley, Emily Gaskins, Laurie Hernandez, and Sydney Johnson-Scharpf.
Faehn’s new position could create some backlash in terms of whether these elites choose to stay at Florida or head elsewhere. While gymnasts choose their collegiate programs for a number of reasons, the coaching staff typically plays a crucial role in their decisions. It wouldn’t be shocking to see a slight exodus, especially if some of these recruits were torn between two schools.
When Jay Clark was forced to resign from Georgia in 2012 after three seasons as head coach, two major Gym Dog verbal commits – Lexie Priessman and Brianna Brown – both changed their plans after hearing of Clark’s departure. Brandie Jay, now going into her senior year at Georgia, was an incoming freshman when Clark’s resignation was announced and stated that he was one of her main reasons of choosing the college and she was disappointed he wouldn’t be there for her collegiate career.
It will be interesting to see how this affects Florida’s future in this sense, and then obviously in terms of quality of coaching.
Though none of Faehn’s new duties have been announced, with her history as both an athlete and a coach, she could be an incredibly legitimate choice as someone who could potentially take over for Martha Karolyi in the future. The program Karolyi has built with USA Gymnastics over the past 15 years now runs so efficiently, the next step is all about finding the right fit for a national team coordinator who can take over after Karolyi – now 72 – retires. While the Senior Vice President position likely has a lot of administrative duties attached, both her history and her relationship with many national team coaches and athletes all points in the direction of a potential Karolyi replacement.
While we are sad to see Faehn leave the program after all she’s managed to do since she took over the role of head coach, we wish her the best of luck in her future with USA Gymnastics and can’t wait to see what she brings to the women’s elite program.
Article by Lauren Hopkins