ATHENS - Georgia went outside the family, and way outside the family, for its new gymnastics coach.
Danna Durante, who had not coached east of her native Oklahoma, was officially announced as the new coach of the Gym Dogs on Wednesday.
Durante has been the women's gymnastics coach at Cal-Berkeley for one season. The Golden Bears finished eighth at the Pac-12 championships this year, although three gymnasts advanced to NCAA regionals.
Prior to that, Durante served as an assistant coach and associate head coach at Nebraska from 2003-11, specializing in balance beam and choreography. In 2007, she was the National Assistant of the Year in gymnastics. Durante also served as an assistant coach at Washington.
She graduated in 1995 from Arizona State, where she was an All-Pac 10 gymnast.
Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity said in an interview that Durante's experience under longtime Nebraska coach Dan Kendig was key. (Here's a link to Kendig's bio.) McGarity pointed out that former Kendig assistants were now head coaches elsewhere - including Florida's Rhonda Faehn, who was hired by the Gators when McGarity was in Gainesville as an associate athletics director.
Florida was the national runner-up in 2012.
"If you look at gymanstics programs in general, there are very few that complete at what I would say is an elite level. Nebraska is one of those. Dan Kendig is one of the legends in the game," McGarity said. "His coaching tree is very impressive. You have someone that has basically learned from one of the best for a period of time, and basically took the job at Cal for a major rebuilding job, that had dropped women's gymnastics a couple years ago. You have someone that wanted that challenge."
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As far as hiring someone with no ties to Georgia, McGarity said that wasn't intentional, it was just a result of the search.
"As far as Georgia alumni, there are several former gymnasts that have their own gymnastics clubs, which obviously a feeder program to the college programs. And there were some very worthy candidates that were some club coaches. But having some collegiate experience was a key factor in making a hire," McGarity said.
Durante replaces Jay Clark, who resigned under pressure two weeks ago after three seasons. The Gym Dogs had failed to return to the glory years the program had under Suzanne Yoculan, who retired in 2009.
“I want to thank Dr. (Michael) Adams and Greg McGarity for this opportunity,” Durante said in a statement. “I could not be more excited to join the Bulldog family. With its rich history and amazing success UGA is without a doubt one of the premier programs in the country. The community support for the Gym Dogs is unparalleled, something I truly look forward to experiencing first hand. We have a very strong, hungry team returning and we are excited to hit the ground running as quickly as possible. It’s important to me that the Georgia alumni understand how much I value their connection to this program. The doors to the gym are open and they are always welcome.
“The decision to leave the University of California was a difficult one, and I want to thank Sandy Barbour for the opportunity at Cal. The support from the administration at Cal and the Berkeley community is strong, and I’m excited about where the program is headed.”
A few highlights from Durante's appearance on a media teleconference:
- She did speak with her predecessors, Yoculan and Clark, but indicated she only talked to Clark after she was hired.
- Durante said she "wasn't in a position" to say whether assistant Greg McGavin would be retained. (Clark's wife, who had been an assistant, has already resigned.)
- Durante acknowledged that Georgia is a "high-profile program."
"I'm looking forward to embracing those challenges and learning along the way," Durante said.
"Obviously if you look at the last 10 years of Suzanne's era, it's kind of a super-human fairytale. That's a difficult standard to live up to. And I think Greg knows it's unrealistic to do that every year."
- But Durante added that there's enough talent on hand to be in the Super Six of the NCAA.
"It's not gonna be unheard of for them to get there in the next year or two," she said.
Durante said she feels the team has a "strong sophomore class" and a good incoming freshman class.