Sep 18, 2023 - News

Coaching styles under scrutiny in two Utah collegiate sports programs

Head coach Tom Farden of the Utah Utes leads his team in a huddle during the Division I Womens Gymnastics Championship held at Dickies Arena on April 16, 2022 in Fort Worth, Texas. Photo: C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Recent investigations into the culture and questionable conduct within two Utah college athletic programs are raising questions over whether hard-line coaching styles have crossed the line into emotional abuse.

Driving the news: An independent review last week found gymnastics coach Tom Farden "did not engage in any severe, pervasive or egregious acts of emotional or verbal abuse of student-athletes" amid emotional abuse allegations outlined in a Deseret News report.

Context: The university hired law firm Husch Blackwell in July to conduct the review of the school's celebrated gymnastics program following the allegations.

Details: The outside review consisted of interviews with 45 individuals, ranging from current and former student-athletes, to parents and coaching staff.

Yes, but: The review found one incident in which Farden personally degraded a student-athlete when he said she would be a "nobody working at a gas station" in her hometown if she wasn't at the school.

  • That comment was found to have violated the school's Athletics' Well-Being Policy.
  • One of the five recommendations from the report included creating a performance improvement plan for Farden that includes emotional intelligence training.

What they're saying: "There were a handful of instances in which Coach Farden should have demonstrated greater compassion and self-control, and better professionalism," Utah athletics director Mark Harlan said in a statement.

Zoom out: Separately, Utah Tech University recently launched an investigation into women's basketball coach JD Gustin after current and former student-athletes alleged he humiliated them and threatened to take away their scholarships, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

  • Of note: The university's spokesperson told the Tribune: "It's our policy to not provide information during ongoing personnel investigations."
  • Gustin did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.

The big picture: The investigations in Utah colleges come as student-athletes across the U.S. resist traditional coaching methods amid allegations of hazing and bullying in a variety of sports.


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