Utah places gymnastics coach Farden on leave

Several weeks after allegations of abuse were made by former gymnasts Kara Eaker and Kim Tessen, the University of Utah has placed head coach Tom Farden on paid administrative leave.

The leave was effective immediately, according to a statement provided to ESPN on Sunday night, but it was unclear what specifically prompted the university to make the decision.

“This action comes after recent conduct and actions by Coach Farden not related to student-athlete welfare, which simply do not align with our values and expectations,” the statement said.

Associate head coach Carly Dockendorf was named the interim head coach.

Eaker, a former national team member and two-time world champion, retired from the sport last month after two seasons at Utah. In an Instagram post last month, she said she was a “victim of verbal and emotional abuse” during her time on the team and had been diagnosed with “severe anxiety and depression, anxiety induced insomnia,” as well as experiencing panic attacks, PTSD and night terrors.

While she did not name any coaches directly, Eaker said much of the abuse she faced took place in individual meetings with “an overpowering coach” as well as in front of her teammates during practices.

Farden was named a co-head coach in 2016 and has been the sole head coach since 2020.

“Instead of receiving positive and encouraging critiques to improve my skills, I was scared to death by the loud and angry outbursts from the coach,” Eaker wrote before referencing specific profanity-laden comments she had heard.

Tessen, who competed with the team from 2017 through 2020 and was the Pac 12’s Specialist of the Year during her senior season, shared her similar experiences on social media several days later and said the program fostered an “abusive and toxic environment.”

Tessen said she had “crippling depression and anxiety” during her time on the team and had “suicidal ideation,” which she shared with “Tom” in a written message.

“Tom decided to address the group instead of me individually,” Tessen said. “We were told, ‘If you don’t tell us what’s going on, then how do you expect us to know?’ I was never offered any real support individually or directly from him. I was only ever asked periodically if I was ‘getting help.'”

Farden and the team’s culture were the center of an investigation that concluded in September. Husch Blackwell, an outside law firm, found that Farden “did not engage in any severe, pervasive or egregious acts of emotional or verbal abuse of student-athletes” and “did not engage in any acts of physical abuse, emotional abuse or harassment as defined by SafeSport Code.”

Faden was determined to have made a derogatory comment to a member of the team, but other reported comments could “not be independently corroborated and were denied by Coach Farden.” He also “more likely than not threw a stopwatch and a cellular telephone in frustration in the presence of student-athletes,” but the investigation said such behavior was “not repeated or severe.”

In her post, Eaker said the investigation was “incomplete at best.”

Utah, which came in third place at the 2023 NCAA gymnastics championships and owns nine NCAA team titles, opens the 2024 season on Jan. 5 against Boise State. Dockendorf has been a member of the coaching staff since 2018.

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