By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Tim Garrison is entering his first season as the head coach of the University of Kentucky gymnastics program after five highly successful seasons as an assistant at Nebraska, where he helped the Huskers to two NCAA Super Six appearances and two Big 12 Conference championships.
Garrison is poised to lead the Wildcats to new heights and he sat down with the SEC Digital Network prior to Friday’s practice at the E.J. Nutter Field House in Lexington to discuss a variety of topics.
SEC Digital Network: Having been the Kentucky head coach since April, how are things going and how much progress has been made towards the goals you set for the program coming in?
“It was interesting because I didn’t know exactly where we were last year. I saw last year and, as a matter of fact, Kentucky came to Nebraska where I was previously, and I didn’t really get a chance to see much of them then because we were all four going at the same time. I have known [assistant coach] Chuck Dickerson for a long time and we talked on occasion. He had told me about where the team was and where he thought the team could go. When I came in, we had lost some seniors who had done some great things for the program – powerful vaulters and big floor scorers. I knew what we had coming in. From that point until now, it’s about getting them into our new program. Obviously Chuck stayed on and I’m very, very pleased about that, but two-thirds of the coaching staff is new, so the athletes who were here have to get used to our style and we have to get used to them. The new recruits coming in are getting used to college, so it’s been a transition for everybody. Overall, I am pretty pleased with where we are right now; we’re in the preparation phase. If you were to ask the athletes, I think they would consider it very difficult and very hard. The biggest thing that I try to get across to them is that they’re never going to be surprised. When I came in, I sent out a conditioning test and told them that this what we were going to have in August. May 22, I sent the conditioning test and I administered it on Aug. 25. They knew exactly what was going to be on it. We told them in advance that conditioning was going to be hard. We told them that it was going to challenge them and they would be tired and sore. We will push them to their limits and sometimes a little beyond what they think their limits are. I think, for the most part, that they have responded. We’ve had some people experience failure in conditioning and failure on the events, but I don’t think they’ve quit, which is completely different. Overall, I think we are in a good place.”
SEC Digital Network: What have you implemented in terms of a culture change to the program and how do you think that is going to help your team be successful?
“The thing that I think is so important is that I want people to come in here and I want them to appreciate what they are getting. I think that’s huge because it’s so easy to take for granted what you are given. When you come into a Division I institution in the SEC with such a proud tradition like the University of Kentucky has, I want them to understand – and understanding is crucial to what we are doing here – that they are incredibly lucky. I think they are living, breathing examples of what it means to be at the right place at the right time. That’s my opinion of where they are. I feel that the staff is in the same position. That, to me, means more than anything else. Because, I think that’s the basis that they can grow from. If they can appreciate what they’re being given and the opportunity that they have in front of them, they won’t take advantage of it, they will be able to use that to help them grow. I think that’s something that will help them and help us as a team to grow this program.”
SEC Digital Network: When you’re building a program, how much does being in a conference as competitive as the SEC help you?
“I think it’s critical. Because if you’re in a lesser conference and you’re beating up on your opponents every weekend and then you schedule other opponents that you can beat up on, when it comes to culminating meets, you’re going to be shocked. For us to be able to go against the top teams in the country week in and week out, I think it presents a tremendous opportunity. We’re going to see great gymnastics all the time. When we first came in here, one of the first things we started talking about was the appreciation factor, but also accountability and the level of expectation. We have to raise that level of expectation. None of us on the staff want to be doormats for anybody. I don’t care if it’s the top-five teams in the country. We don’t want to be doormats for anybody. We’re extremely competitive and we want to get that point across to our athletes. We don’t want to get on the bus after a meet and feel like they need to be sorry for what they did. We want to get on the bus after a meet and think, you know, we maybe were a little bit behind that team this weekend, but we made a lot of progress and we are proud of what we did because we accomplished our goals. That doesn’t mean we’re going to be happy to lose, that’s for sure. We are not going to be good losers, but we’re going to chip away at it. Being able to see them all the time, I put up videos of all the teams that are in the conference and I show the videos at practice because I want them to see. I don’t want them to put their heads in the sand and not know what’s out there. I want them to see exactly who is out there, exactly what they are doing and how they go about their business because, obviously, there’s a reason why they’re top 10. They’re doing what they’re doing by their coaching staff, by their university and by the reputation that they bring. We strive to get there and we intend to get there.”
SEC Digital Network: What sparked your interest in applying for this job and, since you’ve been here, what do you believe makes Kentucky such a special place?
“I love Lexington, I just do, from the first time I came out here. Knowing Chuck helped because he told me about the city before I ever got here. I looked at the opportunity and I thought that the people around this program and the athletes in the program deserve to feel that. They deserve to feel what success and what victory is all about, even in a conference like this. That sparked my interest because I feel like we can do that. I feel like with a change in culture, if we come in here and get a little bit tougher and start going down that path, I think we can get them there, I really do.”
SEC Digital Network: If you could build an athlete who personifies what you are looking for at the University of Kentucky, what characteristics does that athlete have?
“There are certain things that you can teach and there are certain things that you can’t teach. One thing that I value highly is aggressiveness. I want somebody to be able to come in and just get after it. They may not be the most talented athlete, they may not have the highest skill level, but if they can come in and they can get after it and they’ve got fire inside of them, that’s the type of athlete I want because they’re going to keep coming. They’re not going to sit back, they’re not going to be lax and, not only that, having people like that on your team helps other people that maybe aren’t the ones that are going to step forward and say something. Having those people on the team to show them the way, those people are critical, absolutely critical because you can build a program on that.”
SEC Digital Network: What are the reasons that you give to an athlete to tell them why they should come to the University of Kentucky to compete in your program?
“Right now, our program is on the rise and there’s just no two ways about that. I think we are going to give athletes that want to be in the Southeastern Conference a viable option that’s in the northern part of the conference. If somebody is from the East Coast or somebody from Michigan or Tennessee wants to stay closer to home and be in the SEC, we are going to give them a viable option to do gymnastics at a high level.”
SEC Digital Network: How valuable is it to have Chuck Dickerson on your coaching staff, considering his expertise and his previous coaching experience at Kentucky?
“It’s incredibly valuable. All of us are different on the staff here. Chuck is an incredibly positive person and, sometimes when we’re pushing them hard and they get a little bit down, he can go over there and say a few words to him and they’re excited and ready to go again. He has that component and having him on the staff gives us a critical component that we wouldn’t otherwise have on the staff. Not only that, he’s incredibly gifted at what he does. He’s been coaching gymnastics for almost 30 years. He’s very technically sound in addition to having that motivation that he brings to the table.”
SEC Digital Network: What is something that you have seen since you have been coaching this program that others might not realize?
“I just think that there’s an excitement level here with this staff and with this team that nobody knows yet. Everybody knows what Kentucky has been in the past; nobody knows what Kentucky is going to be in the future. I think we have a pretty good insight into what that is and I think it’s going to surprise a lot of people. I think we’re going to make a move this year and, next year, I think we are going to make an even stronger approach. Over the next few years, people are going to stop being surprised by Kentucky and just accept it as a reality that this program is an up-and-coming program that’s going to be a contender. I firmly believe that and I think we already started that by bringing these people in and just non-stop telling them that they need to appreciate this and not take it for granted. If we get that, and we get those aggressive people, this program is going to fly.”
SEC Digital Network: How much does the support that you receive from your administration help your program moving forward?
“The support from our administration is unparalleled from what I’ve seen and from what I’ve heard from talking to other people. When you’ve got our athletic director and associate athletic directors coming into the gym to watch workouts, and come to our competitions, they are willing to give us everything we need to be successful and they’ve said that. The support is unreal.”
SEC Digital Network: You still have a few months before your season begins in January, but how much excitement do you sense there is on your team for the start of competition?
“I don’t think they know how excited they should be right now because they’re in the grind, they’re in the trenches of working hard. They’re tired, they’re sore and I think they’ve got a little bit of blinders on at this point because, right now, they’re all those things and they don’t see the product. They don’t see the finish line just yet, which is great. The thing is, we’re throwing curve balls at them all the time; they’re going to be so ready for competition that I really think them understanding exactly where we’re headed and what we’re going to do is huge. When they get in a facility where there’s 10,000 people watching and there’s pressure and we’re trying to qualify for something or beat a team that just opened the door for us, we’re going to be able to do that. We’re going to be able to walk right through that door.”