After 34 yrs at ASU, Spini to retire after gymnastics season

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                </div>  It had to happen sooner or later.  Thirty-four years is a long time to commit to coaching. But John Spini‘s retirement wasn’t expected quite yet.  The Arizona State University head […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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It had to happen sooner or later.  Thirty-four years is a long time to commit to coaching.

But John Spini‘s retirement wasn’t expected quite yet.  The Arizona State University head gymnastics coach and four-time Pac-10 Coach of the Year decided it was time and announced that he will roll up the mats for the last time after this season.

Hired by ASU back in 1980, he has taken Sun Devil teams to 32 post-season appearances.  His squads have qualified for the NCAA championships 21 times. And three years ago he was inducted into the USAG Arizona Gymnnastics Hall of Fame.

After three decades devoted to the sport, Spini has made his mark on the college landscape.  “I consider John Spini one of the pioneers of college women’s gymnastics and it’s hard to imagine the sport without him,” said Utah’s co-head coach, Greg Marsden, when learning of Spini’s decision.  “John is not only an accomplished coach, he is one of the real personalities in the gymnastics coaching community and I will miss that.”

Now he’s hanging it up after hanging in there long enough to become the longest-tenured coach in ASU program history.  Maybe his decision to name a co-head coach this season should have tipped his hand.

In August, Spini named Maggie Germaine Ethier his co-head coach for this season.  Ethier, a two-time All-American during her college career at ASU, returns to the program where she served as an assistant coach from 2005 to 2008.  She is serving in a volunteer capacity, but that may change after this season ends.

But whomever takes over the program, and assistant coach Todd Ward would be another likely candidate for the job, will have big shoes to fill.  Spini took four Gym Devils teams to runner-up finishes for the national title and has watched as six of his athletes have claimed 10 NCAA individual titles through the years.  Twenty-seven gymnasts under his tutelage have earned All-American honors.

A former U.S. national team coach, Spini goes into this season with a 348-220-2 record.

Back in the early days, the Arizona native and ASU grad got off to a great start with the program, going 19-4 his first year and posting a couple of 20-win season in his first five years.  His teams continued to enjoy national respect and success until 2006, when wins got harder and harder to come by.  For five years, the Gym Devils averaged fewer than four wins a season, but the last couple of years the program has begun a slow, but steady climb back up the ladder.

Last season they finished with a 7-17 record and finished third at the NCAA regional, their highest since 2006.  They closed out the season ranked No. 24 in the final Gyminfo rankings.

Now it appears someone else will have to step in and lead the program back to its place of prominence on the national stage.  And Spini has a good chance to hand over a program that continues to improve; 21 of the team’s 24 line-up spots return from last season.

Spini said when announcing his intent yesterday to retire after this season that he felt blessed and grateful for his time at the school, and being able to enjoy “the privilege of doing what I love for the past 34 years.”  And for the good times: “I am so grateful for the memories I’ve had from my time here.”

The ASU administration, which named a training facility after him in 2006, expressed its appreciation for Spini’s contribution to the school’s sports achievements.  “We are grateful for the legacy John Spini leaves at Arizona State,” said Senior Associate Athletics Director Dawn Rogers, who is speaking for the administration since the school hasn’t decided on a new AD following Steve Patterson’s recent departure.

“On behalf of the hundreds of student-athletes, colleagues, and fans he impacted, we all thank him for his passion, energy, and dedication.”

Spini is leaving ASU, but not the sport.  He will still be involved, with his wife, Lisa, in the Desert Lights Gymnastics club they formed in 1997.

The No. 25-ranked Gym Devils open the 2014 season Saturday in a home tri-meet with San Jose State and Sacramento State.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)