As reported Friday, Umme Salim-Beasley has been named Rutgers’s new women’s gymnastics coach. The former Rutgers assistant was with the Scarlet Knights until 2015 before becoming Temple’s head coach for three seasons. Don’t let the Owls overall 18-17 2018 record fool you, Temple’s individual team scores were a lot better than a roughly .500 mark, hence Salim-Beasley being named ECAC Coach of the Year this season.
As a follower of the Rutgers program, these are the top off-season priorities:
- Uneven bars. This is number one because Rutgers was so much better in floor exercise and on balance beam in 2018. (I’ll get to vault in a minute). The bars were Salim-Beasley’s focus at Rutgers and in 2014, as four team members earned all conference in the event. Temple did struggle in the event at the ECACs this year, but that seems like an outlier compared to their past performances. Of note is that Salim-Beasley had personal success during her college playing career, recording a perfect 10.0 in the event while competing for West Virginia. This should be an upgrade.
- Vault. The gymnastics stat heads who probably have some advanced equivalent of baseball SABRmetrics know that raw vault scores don’t tell the whole story. The vault is the hardest event in women’s gymnastics. It passes by as fast as a track and field sprint but is complicated by the flipping, twisting, then trying to stick a landing. My mother could tell you, but I have no idea how coaches recruit athletes who have high potential in the vault or if they simply do their best to teach the talent they have as best as possible. Some combination of confidence, craziness, and discipline must be required. Whatever it is, Salim-Beasley’s staff seemed to figure it out at Temple. Two of the Owls “vault specialists” advanced to the NCAA regionals for the first time at the school since 2005. They also had a gymnast win the ECAC event for the first time in school history. Expect Rutgers to try to specialize athletes in this event as Coach Levine tried to do in 2018, but with perhaps with a slightly different and hopefully more successful approach.
- Recruiting. In other sports like football, often a new coaching staff arrives and simply doesn’t see Big Ten level talent. With this gymnastics program, I am not so sure that a talent overhaul is required. The team will miss its graduating seniors as Makenzey Shank and Libby Groden were two of the best gymnasts on the roster so it may take some time to replace that production, but hopefully other current athletes can phase their way into the lineup. Seniors Shank, Groden, and Jenna Crisalli were all recruited by Salim-Beasley when she was the Rutgers’s recruiting coordinator during her previous time on the banks. Ensuring buy-in from the two current commits, Mia Betancourt and Abigail Karolewski is important. Since they already signed LOIs I believe, both athletes would not be eligible to be on scholarship elsewhere via transfer at this point. Barring attrition (less common in gymnastics than other sports), Rutgers likely won’t be able to add anyone for this upcoming season. The focus for the 2019 class should be getting good talent, but one reason I think this program started to struggle is how few Jersey ties they have. I don’t expect every athlete from New Jersey to want to come to Rutgers or a perfect match of skill and interest, but only five of the 19 team members this year from New Jersey? That seems like something that needs to trend upward.
- Enthusiasm. A new coaching staff in any sport at any level has a unique opportunity to bring hope to an often long suffering fan base. More than anything Salim-Beasley needs to show everyone associated with the program that the team is on the rise and feed off the overall Rutgers new regime momentum. Finding a steadily improving energy on and off the floor will be key to a successful new beginning. A new practice facility on the horizon can’t hurt. Check out this short clip describing her philosophy.
As you may have guessed, Pat Hobbs probably had a pretty similar set of priorities when reviewing candidates for the job. So my opinion is that he did pretty well with this hire. The Big Ten is among the best if not the best conference in the country in gymnastics, too, so it may take some time, especially the way the recruiting cycle is. Results have started to filter in on the other new coaches Hobbs hired, but for now this seems like the right move.
For even more content to make your own judgment, check out this long interview she did while at Temple.
Salim-Beasley was on the Scarlet Knights’ staff from 2012-15 as an assistant and spent the last three seasons as the head coach at Temple.— Rutgers Gymnastics (@RUGymnastics) May 11, 2018
“I am incredibly excited and honored to be offered the opportunity to return to Rutgers as a head coach.” - @ubeasley1 pic.twitter.com/2X8hwV5IJX