Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Arizona State hires UA’s Lyst
Co-head coach had been at Arkansas since 2001
Arkansas gymnastics co-head coach Rene Lyst talks with gymnast Keara Glover before she competes on the beam during a meet against Florida on Friday, Feb. 1, 2013 at Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas gymnastics has known one set of head coaches during its 12-year existence, and now the coaching duo that started it all is down to one.
Rene Lyst, 43, who started the Razorbacks program with her former husband Mark Cook, has resigned to take over at Arizona State. Lyst helped build Arkansas into a national power, with seven NCAA championship appearances and two Super Sixes in 2009 and 2012.
“Absolutely it was a difficult decision,” Lyst told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “Obviously being here and building this program to where it’s been here at Arkansas has just been an unbelievable experience. I feel so fortunate because not many people get to do what I’ve done and still have other opportunities. Definitely a difficult decision, but at the same time, a great opportunity for me personally to go to Arizona State and have my own program and one where I can make my own mark.”
Lyst takes over at Arizona State for John Spini, the fourth-longest serving coach in NCAA gymnastics, who compiled a 359-235-2 record in 34 years. The Sun Devils finished fourth at the NCAA Fayetteville Regional, one spot behind Arkansas, last month.
“It’s a complete honor and an amazing opportunity,” Lyst said. “Something I’m so looking forward to, making ASU a powerhouse again.”
Arizona State Athletic Director Ray Anderson said he was happy to land Lyst.
“Her success in building a program at Arkansas gave us great confidence in her ability to have our program compete for an NCAA Championship,” Anderson said in a released statement.
Lyst and Cook, who were married at the time, left Stanford after the 2001 season to begin laying the groundwork for the Arkansas program before its debut in 2003. Arkansas made its first NCAA championship appearance in 2006 after upsetting No. 9 UCLA in a regional meet. The Razorbacks won their first NCAA regional in 2009 at Barnhill Arena and posted a fifth-place finish at the Super Six, the program’s high-water mark.
Lyst said Cook, who will now seek an assistant coach, has been “great” in his handling of her departure.
“We came here and built this program together,” she said.
“Obviously we were married at the time, and since our relationship has changed, it’s definitely an opportunity for us to each have our own program.
“To part our separate ways is actually quite difficult. We’ve been coaching together for 17 years, so I know both of us are excited for the new challenges but also, you know, a little nervous about what that experience may be like.”
Lyst said the highlights of her career at Arkansas include beating Stanford and Michigan to win the 2009 NCAA Fayetteville Regional, the Razorbacks’ first trip to the NCAA championships and their Super Six appearance, and the individual performances by gymnasts like Casey Jo Magee, Jaime Pisani and Katherine Grable, who won the school’s first two NCAA individual titles last month.
The Arkansas athletic communications staff said Cook would not discuss Lyst’s departure on Monday.
Pisani, who helped the Razorbacks to two Super Six appearances during her Arkansas career (2009-2012) and is now the program’s director of operations, is considered a candidate for the opening on the coaching staff.
Sports, Pages 21 on 05/06/2014