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Adams: Meet Tom Farden, the new face of Utah gymnastics

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When I was growing up in the small town of Dallas, Penn., my daily routine was a simple one. I’d wake up for grade school in the morning, make myself a bowl of cereal — usually Honey Bunches of Oats — and then turn on the tube to catch my daily dose of Sportscenter. I watched that show religiously, and always looked forward to the basketball and football highlights.

Fast forward to the sought-after weekend, and you’d find me and my friends either playing a game of pickup basketball at the local rec center, or maybe participating in what we thought was an intense backyard football game. We were just your typical group of young boys, looking for any excuse to get a basketball, football, soccer ball, etc., into our hands.

Playing the “popular” sports, such as football and soccer, is somewhat the norm (though that is changing) for young boys growing up, but for new Utah gymnastics head coach Tom Farden, that wasn’t the case.

When Farden, who was born in Korea but grew up in Minneapolis, was just seven-years old, he was already a gymnastics fiend. From entering himself into competitions to helping his friends and teammates to do better each and every day, this was just the beginning of a binding relationship between gymnastics and Farden.

Shortly after realizing that being an actual gymnast wasn’t in the cards for him, Farden decided to express his love for the sport in a different way, saying that he “always enjoyed motivating.” At just 16, Farden began his coaching career with a part-time gig at the local gym, as he compared his position to being a “teacher’s aide” at a school.

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“I always really enjoyed motivating, and transforming people’s beliefs, and letting them break through their own barriers, or helping them break through their own barriers. It’s very gratifying for me,” Farden said.

Just two years later, Farden and a couple of buddies decided to buy their own gym, which they would run until Farden was about 21 or 22 (he couldn’t recall the exact age in the time of our interview). This would lead to bigger opportunities at bigger clubs, but something was missing.

Farden loved club gymnastics, but soon realized that if he wanted to have any sort of a stable career, as well as enough time for him to still be a family man, he would need to move on to the collegiate ranks.

That’s when Farden arrived at the more well-documented beginning to his career at Southeast Missouri State as an assistant coach. After just three and a half years, he was promoted to head coach, and led the program to its peak. With regional appearances in 2006 and 2008, as well as a Midwest Independent Conference championship in 2009, Farden realized that he had done all he could, helping the Redhawks reach their “pinnacle.”

For Farden, the dream was always to be a head coach at a big-time, Division-1 institution, but he needed to pay his dues, just like he did at SEMO. Farden “saw the blueprint” it took to become a head coach, and decided that by taking an assistant job at Arkansas, he would be one step closer to that dream.

He spent just one year with the Razorbacks, helping them finish in 11th place at the NCAA Championships in 2010, before gymnastics legend Greg Marsden came calling. Knowing the type of influence Marsden has had on the sport, it didn’t take much convincing before Farden said yes to joining the Red Rocks staff.

Five years later, and here we are — Marsden has retired and Farden will jump into his role as co-head coach with Megan Marsden starting in 2016. I’m not going to lie, when I first heard the news that the storied Greg Marsden was retiring, I was at a loss for words. Just a staffer back in 2014, covering Utah gymnastics was my first real beat at The Daily Utah Chronicle, and I got to watch a legend go to work each and every day.

I wasn’t sure if the program could recover from losing the icon of NCAA gymnastics. I’d interviewed Farden before, and was impressed with his demeanor, but still was unsure about his taking over of the program. But I can now say, after sitting down with Farden in his office at the Huntsman Center, Utah Gymnastics could not have found a better replacement for the man who revolutionized the sport in Marsden.

As I was walking into his office for the interview, Farden was conversing across the hallway with his partner-in-crime, co-head coach Megan Marsden. The two were discussing next year’s schedule, crunching numbers and comparing notes, so that the Red Rocks were ready to go in his first season as co-head coach.

The man seemed like a natural.

With the 2015 NCAA National Runner-Up trophy staring us both down in the corner of his office, Farden spoke with the same impressive demeanor as he did when we talked just a year earlier. Though he was just barely appointed as Marsden’s successor, it seemed as if Farden had held that role for many years during our interview.

There’s a reason for that. Not only did Farden study and work under Marsden for a number of years, but Farden did his homework long before ever becoming a Ute. According to Farden, there are three “pillars” that Marsden excelled at — academics, support after gymnastics and attendance — and Farden intends to uphold those same ideals.

“Before Greg hired me, I saw his track record, was a big fan and studied his program,” Farden said. “He really took care of the athletes as human beings, beyond just being an athlete … I just watched him take care of those pillars, he kept taking care of all those pillars and the wins came.”

Among those wins that Marsden raked in came 10 national championships, seven coach-of-the-year honors and 40 straight National Championship appearances — numbers that can’t, and probably won’t ever, be matched by anyone. When asked how he would maintain this level of success that the Red Rock faithful have come to expect from Marsden and company annually, Farden mentioned that it’s something he thinks about constantly.

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“Every day, because you’re stepping outside of a legend’s shadow, and how do you keep that program moving forward and how do you keep it relevant?” Farden said. “That’s something that you’ll know when you know, I’m not sure you quite know until you’re in it, and you’re digging through it. We’ve gotta work hard and see where that takes us.”

It won’t be until the Red Rocks preview in December that we get the first look at the new-look Utah gymnastics team with Farden at the helm, but in the meantime, the co-head coach plans on enjoying the summer months. Being an outdoorsman, Farden likes to fish, rock climb, mountain bike, etc., and what better place to do all of that than in the beautiful state of Utah?

To any who are doubting Farden, or to those who don’t think there is a single person out there who can uphold the same success that Greg Marsden had, read what Farden said when I asked him what he will do for this program in the coming year.

“You get to a point where many people on our staff would trade a kidney or part of their liver to make sure this program is successful,” Farden said.

So yes, I have to agree with the point that no one will be able to match what Marsden did. He was, in the old sense of the word, truly legendary, and the sport will forever owe him a debt of gratitude. But Farden is up for the challenge, and in my opinion, is not only the right man, but the only man for the job.

With his co-head coach Megan Marsden by his side, the man who once was the “future” of Utah gymnastics has become the “now” in Salt Lake City.

[email protected]

@GriffDoug

 

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