SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s Tom Farden epitomizes the saying ‘work hard and follow your passion.’ For the Minnesota native, the passion is coaching gymnastics. And the hard work, well it culminated at the conclusion of last season when Greg Marsden handed Farden the reins to co-lead the storied Utah gymnastics program after he had served as an assistant for five years.
“It’s a little overwhelming — the godfather of college gymnastics picking you as his successor,” said Farden. “It’s definitely intimidating, but I’m honored and humbled. I’ve always thought of myself as a blue-collar gymnastics coach, and Greg and I’s ideologies lined up a lot with that. He really liked the grind and so do I.”
Marsden built the U.’s program from scratch and retired after 40 years as college gymnastics' winningest coach. He and his wife — Utah’s other co-head coach, Megan Marsden, spent 31 years coaching together, six as co-head coaches — hired Farden as an assistant with the possibility of successor at the forefront.
“The three of us were on the same page immediately with the way we technically coach,” said Megan. “Greg was surprised his (Farden) technical background was as sound as it was for a young coach, and there’s no question Tom is a great coach.”
For Megan and Farden, the 2016 season has been one of building on each other’s strengths in a complementary manner that has No. 6 Utah sitting at 7-1 overall and 5-1 in the Pac-12 with No. 5 Michigan looming on the road Friday.
“Greg and I really liked that Tom had head coaching experience,” said Megan. “Tom’s been able to take over things that I never did when Greg was here, things that are weaknesses and that I don’t necessarily want to do,” said Marsden.
Farden spent six years as head coach of Southeast Missouri State where he helped the Redhawks grow nationally. There, he spent countless hours writing press releases, fundraising, tweaking meet operations and everything in between. The experience was one Farden forever appreciates even with the additional resources at Utah.
“Some people think you point, at Utah, and something happens. But I don’t think you ever want to take (support) for granted and I think you want to be able to work side by side with everyone who helps run this program,” said Farden. “Without the support of those who help our program, we can’t run.”
The support gives Farden more time to focus on coaching, something he brings his own approach to as he laughs when asked about his yelling voice at practice.
“Everybody has a style, and I think your style fits your personality. If my volume goes up because of encouragement and intensity, that‘s probably a direct reflection of passion — I would hope that’s what people see it as,” said Farden.
The coach is on to something, as his gymnasts know his loud voice is his way of sharing his passion.
“When I first came here, I was actually terrified because he would yell, but then you realize he’s trying to motivate you and everything he does is in a motivational way,” said sophomore Samantha Partyka. “He really just wants you to do the best you can do and put in your best effort every day. He is so much fun to work with.”
Farden admits he wears his passion on his sleeve, in part because of the success he wants the gymnasts to have.
“I’ve got a finite amount of time with those kids and I want to help them break through any barriers they have — academic, athletic, being mentally tougher, whatever barrier — I want to be invested,” says Farden.
Farden’s success is something senior Breanna Hughes has watched firsthand since she met Farden as a kid. Her dad, Mike Hunger, and Farden have been longtime friends.
“It’s been awesome seeing Tom move up the college ranks,” said Hughes. “He’s so involved with his teams, and it’s been so much fun to have him and his family at Utah.”
Farden is balancing the co-head coaching responsibilities with being a husband and dad. He leans on experiences of the Marsdens, who have two sons. Farden admits his wife, Christina, is the best “wife and general contractor” anyone could ask for as she tackles the home projects and takes care of their son Ki on top of teaching preschool.
“I can’t always watch the meets because I get so nervous for Tom, but Ki doesn’t get nervous,” said Christina. “He knows the gymnasts’ names better than me, and he gets mad at me if I talk during the meets because he is so into them.”
It’s safe to say Ki is as big of fan as there is — his parents admit he is often found mimicking junior Baely Rowe’s beam moonwalk on 2x4’s.
“He tells me he wants to be a gymnastics coach,” said Farden, smiling. “If he follows in the footsteps of myself someday and becomes a coach, I can’t think of a more gratifying job in terms of the relationships with the athletes and watching them grow. I don’t know if there is a better job out there.”
Farden’s passion and dedication leave little doubt the reins are in good hands.