Brad Rock: Utah Utes gymnastics plan: it takes 2 to tango

Published: Friday, Jan. 15 2010 12:00 a.m. MST


My wife and I seldom attend movies. That's because we can never decide what we want to see. Her idea of a good time is three hours of polite dialogue, set in the English countryside. I thought "Ghostbusters" was high entertainment.

As I said, we don't get out much.

Consequently, I have a hard time understanding how Greg and Megan Marsden can coach a nationally ranked gymnastics program as a couple, equal in both title and responsibility. When you're married, you talk about things like finances, religion, child rearing, politics. Does anyone really want to talk about work around the dinner table, too? When you work at the same job?

The Utes open their home season tonight at the Huntsman Center against Iowa State in the usual way. There will be a big crowd, sparkling uniforms, glitter makeup and almost certainly a Utah win. But this year is different. Not only did Utah lose its opener last week — something that has occurred only one other time since 1979 — but it now has two head coaches: Marsden 1 and Marsden 1-A, in no particular order.

It's not a terrible idea; sometimes the two-star system works. You have your Simon and Garfunkel, your Ben and Jerry, your Thelma and Louise and your Greg and Megan.

But what about the other 25 years they coached together, building Utah into a national power?

Didn't Greg ever pull rank?

"Oh, yeah," said the only gymnastics head coach Utah has known until now. "I try it all the time. She'll let me rant and rave and then she'll slip something in and let me stew about it and it usually comes around to her way."

They say, however, they mostly avoid talking about work when they're at home.

Whatever the decision process, it has succeeded. Utah has won 10 national titles, though none since 1995. That's not to say the Utes have been sitting around. Since then, they've finished second four times.

If not the baddest team in the country, it's among the most persistent.

It's not like the Marsdens started out co-equal. When she was a college gymnast in the early 1980s, he was a kid himself, running a small-time program for nickels. They married when she was a senior. Upon graduation, she joined the staff as an assistant, serving from 1985-96 before becoming the associate head coach in 1997.

But in the early years, she was mostly just there for the suggestions. Greg ran the team, she ran the house that also included two sons. But things evolved. She now runs both.

"There's only one person in charge there (at home). Both the boys know that. You can take it to the bank: she's in charge at home," he said.

As co-head coach, Megan oversees strength and conditioning, community service, speaking engagements and, naturally, sympathizing with the athletes. In competition, she focuses on beam and floor. He handles Internet projects, recruiting and vaulting.

Why this works is partially because their roles are clear. She gets to be the good cop, he's the heavy. Having competed herself, she says she relates better to the women.

He gets to tell them when they're messing up, which he does, early and often. Asked if he was "OK" with his team's rare season-opening loss to UCLA he said, "I'm not OK with it. Not OK at all."

While Megan says she is pleased with her new title, it's not like the announcement was a huge deal for her. They had gradually become co-coaches, anyway.

"Many times, it's not always pretty. We disagree on some things," she said. "But I've gotten much more comfortable, over time, voicing my opinion pretty equally, in terms that I don't hold anything back."

Greg is emotional and blunt, she is even and composed. He gets flack for things he says in the heat of the moment, she is a skilled communicator. He's high strung and dramatic, she's steady and reasonable.

He once pulled his team off the floor during a meet to protest a judge he thought unfairly penalized his team. Meanwhile, his verbal bouts with rival coaches made news more than once.

"I'm more volatile than she is," said Greg. "That leads me to say sometimes things that are not carefully thought out in advance."

Which led me to asking whether she ever says, "Greg, why did you SAY that? or "What were you THINKING?"

"Happens all the time," he said. "I think she did that just about an hour ago."

My wife asks me that sort of thing, too.

But at least not while I'm at work.

e-mail: rock@desnews.com

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