The mandate had been set. When Rutgers athletic director Pat Hobbs announced in February the school was making a change at the top of its gymnastics program, they wanted a fresh start from the ground up.
In order to do that, the Scarlett Knights were going to have to make some drastic changes. That stated with the hiring of Umme Salim-Beasley in May. The former Rutgers assistant became the program’s eighth head coach in program history.
However, Salim-Beasley says that is where the similarities end between her and past regimes.
“I think that the past two years it has been underachieving in the Big Ten, and our athletic director really wants to see the athletic programs take a jump within the conference. So us coming in, we really are laying a brand new foundation,” Umme Salim-Beasley said. “Everything that we're doing with the program now is nothing like what I was a part of when I was an assistant coach, so we really are bringing something fresh and new to this team that they've never experienced before.”
Salim-Beasley comes to Rutgers after three successful seasons as head coach at Temple. This past season the Owls broke the school record twice with scoring marks of 196.050 and 195.800.
Salim-Beasley was named the 2018 ECAC Coach of the Year after sending two specialists to NCAA Regionals, making it the first time the program sent multiple representatives. A total of 11 gymnasts earned spots on the All-ECAC Teams, including seven on the All-Academic Team.
Salim-Beasley says she and her staff can have the same type of turnaround at Rutgers.
“What I can say is it was really a fantastic opportunity for me to show what my staff and I could do at Temple together, and in this three year time period there, I think we were able to accomplish a lot and really prove to people that we were capable of being able to build a program from the bottom up,” Salim-Beasley said. “But I knew that I had to be able to go and show what we were capable of doing at another university as a head coach. When I had the opportunity to come back to Rutgers, it really was an opportunity that I just couldn't turn down. I was familiar with the university, familiar with the athletic department. Just the ability to be able to show what we're capable of doing on a grander scale in a conference that's really a very competitive conference, really the biggest in all of college gymnastics, was just an opportunity that we really couldn't turn down and say no to.”
The Scarlet Knights are coming off a 2018 season that was anything but spectacular. The Scarlett Knights finished ninth at the Big Ten Championships and sent a total of three gymnasts to the NCAA Regionals. None advanced to the NCAA Championships.
According to Salim-Beasley, Rutgers has too much potential to have that type of season. She says a difference will be seen in the first year.
“I think that this year is the year that we are going to be able to build consistency, give them the excitement and the confidence that they need to be able to go out and compete and be happy about what they've accomplished,” Salim-Beasley said. “I think that being able to compete with anyone else that we have on our schedule this year. So I think that they'll be able to see that they're just as good as anyone else that we're competing against.”
Salim-Beasley is confident the turnaround can take place because of the system she has brought with her. She says it’s completely different than anything being done in college gymnastics today.
“I really feel like what we're doing as a staff is completely different than what any other coach in the country is doing, and I think that's primarily because my original background coming out of college was an elementary educator,” Salim-Beasley said. “So I taught in the elementary school system for many years. And I just found through my experience that learning through fun and excitement and with a purpose really helps people to learn.
“And yes, I am dealing with adult women as opposed to young children,” Salim-Beasley continued. “But that foundation of keeping the structure and having a lesson plan and making an outline from the very beginning and on a weekly basis, knowing what the expectation is for them, and keeping track of it with the way that we decide lineups really helps them to stay focused and grounded and helps them to understand what they need to do to be able to compete.”
The Scarlett Knights will get their first chance to test out Salim-Beasley approach when they travel to the Cancun Classic Jan. 4 in Cancun, Mexico.
Rutgers will face Michigan, West Virginia, and Iowa State as they face serious competition for the first time.
“There's really not a whole lot of pressure. You're not out in front of a huge crowd because you're in a foreign country,” Salim-Beasley said. “But giving them the opportunity just to get out there and compete with other teams so that they are then ready to be able to compete anywhere.”