UPDATED WITH QUOTES FROM DURANTE, YOCULAN . . .
ATHENS – Georgia didn’t waste any time choosing a new direction for its championship-rich gymnastics program.
The Bulldogs on Wednesday announced they had tabbed Danna Durante (pronounced DAN-uh Doo-RAN-tay) as the new gymnastics coach. Her official hire comes 19 days after athletic director Greg McGarity asked for coach Jay Clark’s resignation and word of her appointment was circulated among Georgia’s gymnasts and administrators as early this past weekend.
Durante, 39, comes to Georgia from the University of California-Berkeley– aka Cal — where she was head coach for just one season. She was a longtime assistant at Nebraska and Washington before that — she was the 2007 National Assistant Coach of the Year — and was a gymnast herself at Arizona. She is considered a expert coach on balance beam, an area where the Gym Dogs have struggled in recent years.
Though she has only one year of head coaching experience, Durante insisted she is not overwhelmed by the challenge of taking over a program that has won 10 national championships, including five in a row just three years ago.
“I’m not intimidated,” Durante said during a teleconference call with reporters Wednesday evening. “There are very few gymnastics programs in the country that have the success and get the amount of coverage that Georgia does. But it’s not something that intimidates me. . . . It’s something I’ve been prepared for along the way and it’s exciting. I’m excited about being the face of that program and being able to promote women’s gymnastics.”
At Cal this past season, the Bears finished eighth out of eight teams in the Pac-12 Championships and did not qualify as a team for NCAA regionals. At Nebraska, where she spent the previous five seasons, her gymnasts earned a total of 23 All-America honors and she helped guide the Cornhuskers to a fourth place finish at the 2011 NCAA Championships.
“Danna is ready for this challenge,” McGarity said in UGA’s news release.”She embraces the remarkable accomplishments of our gymnastics program, and we’re very confident she will provide the leadership, passion and experience to be successful at UGA. Danna has excelled at every stop along her journey, as a student-athlete, a club coach, an assistant, associate and head coach at outstanding institutions, and we are confident this pattern will continue at UGA.”
Clark was forced out after the Gym Dogs failed to advance to the Super Six round of the NCAA championships for three straight years. They won five consecutive national titles before that under legendary coach Suzanne Yoculan.
Durante believes she can have Georgia back in the hunt in short order.
“If you look at the last few years of Suzanne’s era, it’s kind of a super-human, fairy tale,” she said. “So obviously that’s a difficult standard to live up to and I know that. But obviously there’s talent on the team and they’re very capable getting back to the Super Six in the next year or the year after.”
Durante gets the wholehearted endorsement of Yoculan, who said she has know Durante for many years and praises her in particular for her beam work.
“I think a lot of her as a person,” said Yoculan, who spoke to Durante before she was hired. “She has a lot of vision and is always reaching out to others for information. She talked to a lot of people before she settled on a staff and really focused on surrounding herself with motivated people who are highly regarded in collegiate gymnastics. . . . Danna is energetic and driven and not afraid of challenges or expectations. She is a go-getter and a perfect fit for the Gym Dog program.”
A native of Tulsa, Okla., Durante was a two-time member of the U.S. Gymnastics Federation National team in 1988 and 1990. She qualified for the 1988 Olympic Trials and won top honors in the all-around in 1986 and 1987 at the South African Cup. She competed internationally in Germany, France, Bulgaria and South Africa, and was also a two-time member of the U.S. Gymnastics Federation National Team. In addition, Durante served as a USAG Elite Level Judge from 1996 to 2000.
“Danna has an outstanding background and is highly regarded throughout collegiate gymnastics,” said Carla Williams, UGA executive associate athletic director, who oversaw the search. “We’re looking forward to her energy and expertise in leading our program.”