Utah’s gymnastics program is in the market for some new assistant coaches.

Early Monday morning, LSU announced it had hired Utah’s husband and wife duo of Garrett Griffeth and Courtney McCool Griffeth to serve as assistant coaches for the Tigers.

In LSU’s announcement, head coach Jay Clark said the couple check “all the boxes” for his program, because of their coaching and recruiting prowess.

“They are both personal coaches who care deeply for every student-athlete. Their energy is infectious and character is impeccable.”

The Red Rocks are more than familiar with all that.

From the moment the couple arrived in Salt Lake City in the summer of 2019 as major pieces in Utah’s remade coaching staff following Megan Marsden’s retirement, they made their presence felt.

“They brought a whole new level of gymnastics with them,” Alexia Burch told the Deseret News early in the 2020 season. “They are really there to challenge us to do the bigger skills, to be perfect. In a sense, they brought a more competitive nature to each event.”

In the two years Griffeth and McCool Griffeth were on staff, Utah was inarguably more competitive. The Red Rocks:

  • Won 21 of 22 regular season competitions over the last two years, with the only loss coming at Oklahoma.
  • Won two regular-season Pac-12 championships.
  • Won the 2021 Pac-12 Championship.
  • Finished third at the 2021 NCAA Gymnastics Championships, the best finish to a season for the program since 2015, and there were some record-breaking performances along the way.

Specific to the events they coached — Griffeth coached vault, while McCool Griffeth coached floor exercise — Utah:

  • Improved from No. 8 to No. 4 in the country on floor, from 2020 to 2021.
  • Was ranked No. 7 nationally on vault in both 2020 and 2021.
Utah head coach Tom Farden, left, and assistant coach Garrett Griffeth celebrate Alexia Burch’s vault routine during the Arizona State-Utah gymnastics meet at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. | Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Those vault rankings belie Griffeth’s impact, too, which included helping numerous gymnasts improve on the event, including Sydney Soloski, Jaedyn Rucker, Lucy Stanhope and Burch.

Under McCool Griffeth’s tutelage, Maile O’Keefe won a national title on floor, while Soloski was named an All-American.

Both coaches expressed gratitude for their time at Utah as part of LSU’s announcement.

“I am grateful for the time we spent on staff at Utah the past few years where we learned a great deal,” Garrett said, while Courtney added, “I’m so thankful for our experience over the last few years coaching at the University of Utah.”

Where does their departure leave the Red Rocks?

These Utah gymnasts are headed to the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials
A record-breaking performance propelled Utah to its best finish at the national championships in years

Utah still has head coach Tom Farden at the helm and he has proven himself an excellent recruiter — Utah’s incoming class includes two Olympic hopefuls in Kara Eaker and Grace McCallum.

He demonstrated his coaching prowess on uneven bars this past season, too, in case there was any doubt. Bars was Utah’s weakest event at the start of the year, but by the end of the season the Red Rocks’ rotation was on par with many of the nation’s best. Utah’s improvement there was one of the main reasons the team advanced to the final day of nationals.

Assistant coach Carly Dockendorf is still at Utah as well, and under her guidance balance beam has become the Red Rocks’ best and strongest event (they ranked No. 2 in the country on beam in 2020 and ranked No. 3 this past season).

Coaching searches are something Farden is familiar with. When he took over as the sole head coach of the program in 2019, he brought in Griffeth and McCool Griffeth and promoted Dockendorf, creating one of the best staffs in college gymnastics in the process.

The next couple of hires could be the difference between winning national championships or not, though.

Utah has traditionally had success on floor — since 2010, seven Utah teams have ranked in the top 5 in the country — and with every gymnast back from the No. 4-ranked floor lineup, plus the addition of Eaker and McCallum, the Red Rocks are primed for success there.

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While the same can almost be said for vault — six Utah teams have ranked in the top 5 on vault since 2010 — the Red Rocks need to improve on the apparatus, specifically the difficulty of the vaults performed. Almost all national title-winning teams have six vaults with a start value of 10.0 in their lineup. This past season, Utah had only four of those vaults.

With Eaker and McCallum — and health permitting, MyKayla Skinner — joining the team next season, Utah will have the gymnasts capable of performing those more difficult vaults. They just need the coach to put it all together.

When Farden built his staff in 2019, he explained, “the common thread that all of them have is they are very passionate about coaching gymnastics and coaching at the highest level. All three of them are extremely hard workers.”

Two years later, he’ll need to find that caliber of coach again.

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