After making the finals, longtime coach retires
Matt Gad—Sports Writer
After 15 years as the head coach for the Owls’ women’s gymnastics program, former Southern men’s gymnastics star Jerry Nelson is calling it a career, having made this month’s USA Gymnastics Nationals his final appearance as head coach.
“The only real safe retirement is the one that people feel comfortable with,” Nelson said. “And I’ve had a chance to call it on my own terms.”
He said he has been toying with the decision for five or six years now but it was hard for him to step down, especially because feels he grew up here.
Nelson won two national titles with the Owls in men’s gymnastics in the 1970s for a program that was highly regarded throughout its duration.
“I absolutely love what I do and leaving the athletes was the hardest part. I loved being the head coach and it was a tremendous job,” Nelson said.
For all but his first season, Nelson has been assisted by Linda Mullin, who was also his head coach when he owned Nelson’s Gymnastics Centers from 1974 to 1999.
“We’ve been a team for a long time and we’ve been very successful and he will be missed a lot,” Mullin said. “He just has such a positive attitude.”
Nelson’s attitude has helped them bring in recruits over the years since, as Mullin said, he “believes in every girl” and “won’t give up on them.” Senior Kylyn Dawkins, a four-year member of the team, recruited out of Bridgeton, New Jersey, and said Nelson taught her a lot and made her a better gymnast and a better person, too.
“Coming into Southern, he was a big reason why I came,” Dawkins said. “As a freshman, you want to feel like you belong and he was very encouraging, and he told me that college gymnastics was where I would make my big peak as a gymnast and he was right.”
Dawkins said she exceeded her own expectations in what she was able to do throughout her time on the team and that Nelson “tried to see the good out of every situation.”
Mullin said she provided a bit more of the structure in the program and that he was the fun and positive one, but both styles meshed well together and developed into a strong coaching chemistry.
“It worked extremely well,” she said. “He just has such a positive energy.”
In 2005, right after he was hired at his Alma Mater, Nelson called Mullin to join his staff.
Mullin said the only reason why she was not already part of the team in that first year was because she had recently given birth to a child.
“[Linda] has been a part of everything this team has accomplished and she’s been the front line for the recruiting process. The team and I sold it from there but she’s the first one that they dealt with,” Nelson said. “We’ve worked together for over 20 years and we can accomplish a lot in just looking at each other and having some simple talks.”
In addition to Nelson taking home another ECAC Coach of the Year honor this year, his third since 2006, Mullin took one home for Assistant of the Year. And after 14 years, she said she is interested in becoming the team’s head coach.
Officially, Athletic Director Jay Moran, will oversee a national coaching search for Southern, but Nelson said he would like to pass the torch and would “like to see Linda step into my shoes.”
“I’d like to see that but I don’t have the control,” he said. “But she’s a great coach. She put two of five kids into the finals [at nationals] just now.”