A man for all seasons: On the cusp of 1,000 wins, Utah gymnastics coach Greg Marsden remains humble
Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Though Utah gymnastics co-head coach Greg Marsden jokes that being one win away from 1,000 victories simply means he’s old, the coach humbly acknowledges the significance of the achievement.
“It’s really a milestone for the program,” said Marsden. “The nice thing for me is I’ve been here the entire time.”
Marsden started the program in 1976, building a power both on and off the mat. During his tenure, Utah has won 10 national championships and had 332 All-Americans and 24 NCAA individual champions.
Though Marsden has enjoyed more success than any other gymnastics coach in NCAA history and is poised to become the first college gymnastics coach to rack up 1,000 career wins, he’s quick to reflect on the whole experience.
“We are in touch with almost all of our former athletes, and take a great deal of pride in what they go on to do. Whether it’s a doctor, lawyer, teacher, stay-at-home mom, or something else, it’s all important to us,” said Marsden.
Many of Marsden’s former gymnasts attend meets in Salt Lake City or across the country when Utah travels, while others volunteer with the meet scoring staff or "like" him on Facebook.
“We really try to work with the whole person when our gymnasts come to the U. Gymnastics is great and it’s what brings them together in Utah with common goals, but we can’t lose focus of helping them get an education and preparing them for life after gymnastics,” said Marsden.
“Being at Utah really is something special,” said senior gymnast Nansy Damianova. “It’s really amazing to be part of this milestone during my senior season and celebrate the program’s achievement.”
When Marsden started the program, he had a vision to make it one of the best fan experiences around, thus giving the Red Rocks an advantage at home. He’s done that and more, averaging more than 14,000 fans the past four seasons and more than 11,000 since 1992.
“I had always loved the sport of gymnastics, having competed through high school. But I was amazed by the fan support and energy of Utah gymnastics when I attended my first meet 20 years ago. Couple that with watching elite-level gymnastics and I was hooked from that first meet,” said Red Rock fan Cheri Wright.
Wright, like many Utah fans, has braved blizzards and other obstacles to watch Utah in the NCAA championships. And like many fans, Wright now brings her daughter to the meets to join in the camaraderie of fellow Utah fans she’s met along the way.
The fan energy that Marsden has created has kept his team competitive as well, most recently helping him recruit 2013 Junior Olympic all-around champion Baely Rowe.
“I just really loved the energy of the fans at Utah,” said Rowe. “There is no place like it, and competing in front of those fans is unbelievable.”
Though Marsden has created a home atmosphere as exciting as any, he’s also created a social media platform that allows fans to follow their team on the road.
“We just keep expanding as the whole social media scene expands,” said Marsden. “We are doing more with Instagram because that seems to be the favorite of the age group we are recruiting. It’s not so much Facebook and Twitter anymore — that seems to be where the coaches, fans and parents are. It’s funny how it transitions.”
Transition is something Marsden has tackled during his 39 years at the helm. He’s not one to sit back and let things happen, but rather is recognized by his peers as a leader who’s changed the face of collegiate gymnastics. Seems only fitting for the longest-tenured and winningest gymnastics coach in the NCAA.
“I really had no idea how big 1,000 wins was until one of my athletes, Becky Tutka, said, ‘Megan, this is a big deal’, and then we started discussing how few coaches have reached this milestone and especially how few in sports with smaller seasons,” said co-head coach Megan Marsden, who’s in her 30th year with Utah.
“Greg has been trying to downplay this, but it makes me smile that our gymnasts are so excited for him.”
Megan, Greg's wife, joined him as co-head coach in 2010, something Greg said was the final piece of a longtime partnership. He’s also had a lot of fun working next to his son Dakota, who is a manager for the team.
“We’ve had great assistants — really just a great coaching staff. I’m fortunate Utah has provided me an opportunity and the wherewithal to surround myself with talented assistants. I’m smart enough to take the credit for all of their work,” laughed Greg Marsden.
Marsden’s first shot at his 1,000th win is Saturday at Arizona State. If he gets it, he will join an elite group that includes coaching legends Jerry Sloan and Pat Summitt. More importantly, it will make him step into the public’s eye to be recognized — not bad for a humble, old guy.
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