What do legendary NCAA gymnastics coaches do after they retire? Join Twitter.
|Dvora Meyers||Oct 22, 2019|| 6|
When Greg Marsden retired from coaching at the end of the 2015 NCAA gymnastics season—his 40th at the helm of the University of Utah’s women’s gymnastics team—he left behind an enviable track record: nine NCAA team titles, one AIAW championship, and one of the most devoted fan bases in all of women’s college gymnastics. Marsden, in addition to his competitive success as a coach, is credited with figuring out how to pack the house for women’s college gymnastics meets by turning the competitions into fast moving, engaging spectacles. The Utes fill the stands of the Huntsman Center with fans during the regular season and have for decades. Their average season attendance is over 14,000. (He is also, at least to my knowledge, the only college gymnastics coach who has ever posed in a tutu for a billboard.)
Though Marsden stopped coaching four years ago, he hasn’t completely disappeared from the sport. Shortly after his retirement, he resurfaced on Twitter and is, according to his bio, a “haggard, old, jaded, irrelevant, narcissistic, hypocritical NCAA gym fan & social media uninfluencer.” From his social media perch, Marsden tweets about coaching changes during the offseason and engages with crazy gymnastics fans like me. He also posts photos of his hikes with dogs Rocky and Levi—Rocky belongs to Marsden and Levi belongs to Marsden’s son, Dakota—out in the mountains around Salt Lake City. Marsden is showing us millennials what the retirement we’ll never get to experience looks like, the same way we will one day tell our grandchildren about these things called glaciers.
Aside: I met Rocky, Marsden’s dog, when I went to Salt Lake City in January 2015 to report about college gymnastics for my book, The End of the Perfect 10. Rocky, then about 2-3 years old, was running around the Dumke Gymnastics Center while the Utes went through a conditioning session the Saturday morning after their Pac-12 showdown with UCLA. As I watched Rocky and marveled at his speed across the mats, Megan Marsden, then co-head coach of the team, told me that the dog had undergone surgery to repair his ACL and that Greg had carried the 70 pound yellow Labrador up and down the stairs during his recovery. I made a quick note of this in my phone and then wrote about Rocky in the chapter on college gymnastics, saying, “Because in gymnastics, even the coaches’ dogs tear their ACL.” When I sent in the first draft of the book to my editor, I left a note near the sentence about Rocky, begging her not to cut it. It is very on brand for me to die on the hill of “leave the part about the dog in my book about gymnastics.”
Here is Rocky reading the passage from the book that’s about him. His is the only review that matters to me. Now, if only he had opposable thumbs and could post to Goodreads.
Okay, now that the dog talk is out of the way, let’s get back to Marsden and see what he has been up to since he quietly left coaching at the end of the 2015 season. Below is our email Q&A exchange, very lightly edited for clarity.
Dvora Meyers: How is retirement treating you?
Greg Marsden: What retirement? I was promoted to a new job. I am now a dog walker, or haven’t you noticed? One reason I came to Utah for graduate school in 1974, was because of the outdoor recreation opportunities here. For the first few years, I took full advantage of them with activities such as hiking, summer and winter camping, river running, alpine and Nordic skiing, to mention just a few. However, once I started coaching gymnastics, it consumed me and I made the excuse that I no longer had time to play outdoors AND accomplish my goals. I don’t regret that but now that I’m done with it, I am once again taking full advantage of this awe-inspiring place.
(Ad for gymnastics team tryouts in The Daily Utah Chronicle, fall 1975.)
DM: Do you post photos of you hiking with the dogs in the mountains just to make the rest of us feel bad about our dreary lives spent behind a computer screen? If yes, why do you hate us?
GM: I became intrigued with photography and video editing during my time in gymnastics. I was actually quite involved with creating much of the content we used on our website and later, for our social media accounts. I still enjoy the creative process but now my subjects are my dogs and the landscapes we explore. I hope my photos and videos make those who see them smile and encourage them to get up and go outside to play when they can.
DM: What made you decide to join the gymternet and sign up for Twitter? What have you learned from hanging out with us crazy fans online?
GM: Since Salt Lake City is geographically isolated and not a big media market, I had to find ways to expose and sell our program to recruits and their families and later, to expand our fan base. I knew the internet could do that so we always worked hard to be on the cutting edge of how to take advantage of it. In our 2000 season, we were the first to produce a live stream of a gymnastics meet. I learned to build web pages and how to use analytics. When social media came along, it was a natural extension of what we were doing. I ran all of our social media accounts and created many of the assets we used. By the time I retired, I guess social media was already a bad habit, so I created a new brand and became the influencer I am today. BTW, my profile is primarily made up of replies from the gymternet to some of my posts. I do love the gymternet though… always have, always will, no matter what they say about me. It is the heart and soul of gymnastics fandom and although I’m no longer directly involved in gymnastics, I will always be a crazy fan.
DM: I heard from Megan [Marsden] that you haven't set foot inside the Huntsman Center since you retired. Really? Why?
GM: There are many reasons. After starting something and running it for 40 years, it’s difficult not to have an opinion…about everything! They don’t need a back seat driver and I probably couldn’t keep my damn mouth shut. My time is over and it would not be fair to the athletes or coaches for me to be, in any way, a distraction from what they are trying to accomplish. This is their time. Utah Gymnastics consumed me for 40 years. While I enjoyed every last minute of it, once I walked away, I had nothing left to give AND I had other things I wanted to do. I am not one to dwell in the past. I prefer to look forward to the next thing that will consume me. With that said, I will always be a friend to Utah Gymnastics. GO UTES!
DM: What would have to happen to get you to come out of retirement? What if you were offered the chance to run the women's elite program again? [Marsden was briefly at the helm of the program in 1987.]
GM: I have nothing left to give gymnastics…well, other than a sarcastic tweet or two every now and again.
Photo credit: Greg Marsden