Soon after her appointment as Georgia's next gymnastics coach, former Cal coach Danna Durante fielded questions during a teleconference with UGA media.
Here's a recap of the conversation with the new head of the Gym Dogs. ...
Are you intimidated at all coming into a program that gets as much attention as Georgia does?
DURANTE: No, I'm not intimidated. Certainly, I've talked about this a lot over the last few weeks. There are very few gymnastics program in the country that have this PR piece and have the amount of coverage that Georgia does. It's not something that intimidates me. It's certainly not something in my past that I have encountered a lot, but I think it's something that I have been prepared for along the way. And honestly, it's exciting. It's exciting where there is such great interest around the sport of women's gymnastics. I'm excited to be able to be the face of that program. I know the community of Athens and the support there is tremendous, so I'm looking forward to being a part of that.
How much of a thrill or a challenge do you think it is to step into a high-profile like this not having a lot of experience as a head coach?
DURANTE: I think it's both. There are parts of it that are absolutely thrilling. As an elite athlete, you work really hard to accomplish your goals. It's not different when you're a coach. And if you have that goal to be a head coach and finally get that opportunity, obviously it is thrilling. ... And there is the challenge, as I've learned here in the last week, of really trying to make sure that the information that gets out is the information that you want out. The information that you don't want out, how can you keep a lid on it? That's certainly something I've just learned in the last week is tough to do. But I do think it's a challenge that I'm really for. I know the athletes currently in the program, in my conversations with them over the last week, came to Georgia because of all of the support and in part because of the publicity. It's a very high-profile program, and they strive to be a part of that. And they're excited to be a part of that. I'll continue to learn the challenges, but I'm looking forward to embracing those challenges and just learning along the way.
National championships and at least Super Sixes are the standard at Georgia. How quick do you think you can get Georgia back in that situation?
DURANTE: Obviously, if you look at the last five years of Suzanne's era, it's just kind of a super-human fairy tale. Obviously, that's a difficult standard to live up to, and I know that Greg knows that's unrealistic for somebody to come in and win every year. Certainly, there's talented athletes on the team. They're very capable of getting back to the Super Six. It's not going to unheard of for them to get there in the next year or two, because the talent is there. They're good kids. They work hard. They competed at a high level coming in to Georgia, and I know they came here to win. ... The recruiting going forward and continuing to bring that talent to Athens and make sure we have the depth there, that's something we have to tackle right now and make sure as we're recruiting kids that are sophomores and freshmen in high school that we're continuing to get the best of that talent.
I'm not going to put any predictors on when I think we can do that, but I don't think it's out of the question for us to be in the Super Six, whether it be next year or the year after that, because the talent on the team is good and they're strong and good competitors.
Expand on the team you have coming back. Do you feel like you have a pretty solid footing to start with?
DURANTE: I think we do. There's certainly some athletes on this squad that competed at a very high level and have maybe come to Georgia and not done as much as some people maybe expected them to do. My intention is to take it into individual conversations with them and find out what their goals are and how we can help them reach their potential. When you compete at the elite -- and this is something I struggled with as an athlete -- when you make that shift to college, it can be a challenge. It's a whole different focus. You've been very individual all of your life, and now you need to be a team player. ... I think there is a great deal of talent on this squad, and I think there are athletes that haven't quite reached their potential for what they can do in college. So I'm anxious to get on campus and get to working with those athletes and really just get to know them. ... There is a strong sophomore class. The athletes coming in are very strong for this 2012 class, so I'm looking forward to getting to know them and getting to work with them on a one-on-one basis. I do think that there is a great deal of potential and individual talent.
What are your plans for building a coaching staff and will you consider keeping (26-year veteran assistant) Doug McAvinn on with the team?
DURANTE: The staff, I'm working on currently. I'm not in a position right now to be able to talk about Doug or whoever else I'm looking at, but I do know that I feel (I want a) strong technical background. They have to have a great eye for recruiting but also for the gymnastics part of it, so when we get these high-level elite athletes into our program, they can continue to coach them. I think that's really important from a technical standpoint. But then also I want to have a staff that loves to recruit, loves to get out and travel, loves to be able to scout talent and figure out how to put together a team where we've got power, we've got grace, we've got all those pieces. Those are things that I'm looking for in a staff. Obviously, my goal is to work quickly because recruiting right now is incredibly important. This is a very hot recruiting time for us, and we need to be on the road.
How well do you know Suzanne Yoculan and Jay Clark, and did you talk to them through this process of taking the job?
DURANTE: I did. Jay and I spoke just recently. Of course, it was after the process. But the gymnastics community, just like any other sport, is a very small community. And when you've been in it as long as I have, I've watched Georgia when I was at Arizona State and as a coach. I've known them for a long time. I consider them friends. Suzanne and I, we've been in contact for several years. She obviously did some great things and really was strong with her team chemistry and the way that she put her team together. Those are things that I've picked her brain about on many occasions and something that I'll continue to do from that standpoint. So I have visited with both of them. I have a great deal of respect for this program -- and Doug -- that they built. And again, I'm looking forward to being a part of that Georgia tradition.
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