Ray Corn had been discussing future gymnastics schedules with another coach. He'd gone in to his administrators at Utah State University and "timetabled one more season."

"And I just got to thinking, why?"

Corn, suffering since August with Guillain-Barre, a sometimes-fatal virus that attacks the peripheral ends of the nervous system, decided, "If there is a change, let's make it now."

He abruptly retired after 31 years as the Aggies' gymnastics coach, the program's only head coach. He said he will continue to teach at the school, run his summer workshops and nighttime kids' program, Titans Gymnastics, and will be USU's No. 1 fan.

"It was (sudden)," Corn admitted in a sometimes-emotional phone interview Monday, three days after the announcement.

"It's just time for a change. I'm looking forward to it, OK? I don't know what's ahead of me, but I just want to be able to rest and relax. We'll get through this," he added.

Corn was born on New Year's Eve 1949 in the Philippines and attended high school and college in Colorado. He said he is "pretty much out of the woods" as far as the most critical problems Guillain-Barre can cause — if it gets into the respiratory system it can be fatal or require a respirator — but he is also not seeing much progress.

"I'm improving all the time, but it seems like I've just hit this status right now, and I really am no better. I can jog a bit, different things like that, but to just keep going after it the way I have been, I think it's the best decision," said Corn.

"It was the entire right side of my body, from my neck all the way down to my feet," Corn explained about the Guillain-Barre virus, which he has read can be stress-induced. "It's like I have a constant burning sensation.

"Now it is just in my hip down to my foot that is the problem. I have my good days, and I have my bad days, but the bad days are getting more infrequent. On my bad days, it's like I have no strength in my leg whatsoever. On my good days, it's like I have sunburn just on that leg."

He said the virus takes time to run its course.

Corn won't miss all the bus and airplane travel or the NCAA certification exams, but his voice cracks when he talks of fond memories of an Aggie program he built with such passion that one-time athletic director Rod Tueller told him to "mellow out, take a chill pill, quit going 150 mph constantly."

"There is going to be an endless amount of time of memories on my part," he said, thankful to former administrators for hiring him and renewing his contract every year and for making him the first of the school's Olympic-sport coaches to receive a 12-month contract rather than a nine-month deal.

Thoughts of 31 years tumbled back — the 1991 season when Utah State joined BYU and Utah in making up one fourth of the field for the NCAA championships at Alabama. "That was a big one for me," he said of USU's only NCAA finals appearance. The Aggies made either the NCAA or AIAW regionals 26 times in Corn's tenure, and though they missed the 2008 postseason, six athletes qualified for the regional.

"I think we were the first team to ever beat Penn State at Penn State, in 1983 or '84," he continued. "Beating Oregon State at home when they were ranked fourth in the nation. Beating Arizona at New Mexico. Beating Utah at Arizona in the early days — that was a shocker." And the school-record 197.225 scored at Texas Woman's University in 1997 "was huge."

"But more than anything I think it's the phenomenal student athletes that I've been associated with who are now scattered all over the country. I've received dozens and dozens of phone calls" since news of his retirement spread.

Corn can only take so many calls a day before the emotion overcomes him. Among the most appreciated were calls Friday from other coaches in the state. "Greg (Utah's Marsden) was the first one that called me, then Dawn (BYU co-coach Cattermole), then Scott (Southern Utah's Bauman). I hope that I don't lose my camaraderie and association with the other collegiate coaches in Utah," said Corn. "I enjoyed the in-state rivalries immensely." He includes Boise State because it's so close.

Though Corn isn't certain what life will bring next for himself, wife Shelly and teen daughters Amanda Rae and Christina Marie, he said it's the best decision, and he foresees good things for whomever succeeds him.

There will be eight returnees and eight freshmen, and the many surgeries the team underwent last season "have been extremely successful. It will be a good time for someone new to come in and take the program into battle."

Corn isn't involved in the selection process but said he's pleased with the quality of those who have called him to inquire about applying for the job.

"I predict USU will be back in (the NCAAs). I don't know when, but we'll be back," Corn said. "I'm going to get season tickets to USU gymnastics — and season tickets to Utah."


E-mail: lham@desnews.com