TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Legendary Alabama gymnastics coach Sarah Patterson is stepping down after 36 seasons, 1,006 wins and 43 postseason championships, she announced Tuesday morning.
“After much thought and prayer and after much consultation with athletics director Bill Battle and our president, Dr. Judy Bonner, I have decided to step down from the only job I have ever known since graduating from college,” Patterson said. “This is something I have tried to postpone but, through ongoing consultation with my physicians, it has become evident that surgery to replace both knees is necessary. My physician shared with me that it will be a year or more before I am back to a normal lifestyle.”
Patterson, who led Alabama to six NCAA championships, winning the first in 1988, has been battling degenerative issues in both knees for several years. Despite constant focus and effort on her part to hold off the inevitable, it became increasingly obvious to Patterson’s physicians that both knees will have to be replaced in the immediate future.“Although this is certainly not how any of us wanted Sarah’s incredible coaching career to come to an end, we are excited that Sarah has agreed to continue to serve the university and this department,” Battle said. “At this point, though, we are focused on her return to health. We will make every effort to continue the tremendous momentum that Sarah and [husband] David created and maintained for our gymnastics program.”
Patterson will remain a part of Battle’s staff as a special assistant to the director of athletics. She will also begin her role as a member of the NCAA Gymnastics Committee in September.
“Sarah Patterson is an extraordinary member of our university, not only as a coach, but as a mentor of young women and a champion for those in need in Alabama and beyond,” Bonner said. “As this chapter of her spectacular career comes to a close I, for one, am very much looking forward to the next chapter, which I know will be equally amazing.”
Dana Duckworth has been named as Patterson’s successor, pending approval of The University of Alabama Board of Trustees. A member of the Crimson Tide family since her days as two-time individual NCAA champion in the early 1990s, Duckworth will be the sixth head gymnastics coach in Alabama history.
“I would like to thank Coach Battle and President Bonner for offering me the opportunity to take a complete year of medical leave and then return to coaching but, in this climate of early recruiting commitments, having a staff that changes at least twice in the next two years is not in the best interests of the continued success of Alabama gymnastics,” Patterson said. “I know that Dana, along with Bryan Raschilla, will do an amazing job carrying on the championship tradition they have been a part of for so many years.”
David Patterson will also step down from his role as the Tide’s volunteer coach, a position he undertook after retiring from the university in 2008 after 30 years as the Tide’s associate head coach, due to chronic back issues.
“After having been through brief periods in the past where both of us were out of the gym at different points for health reasons, Sarah and I have always said that neither of us ever wanted to coach without the other,” David Patterson said. “The timing is not what any of us wants, but the necessity of surgery at this point, and preserving Sarah’s health, has set the timetable.”
The Pattersons began coaching Alabama in the fall of 1978 and quickly turned around a program that had been through four years (and four coaches) without a winning season, creating a national powerhouse. Earning their first NCAA championship berth in 1983, when the Tide finished an astonishing fourth, Alabama is one of just two programs in the nation that have been to every NCAA championship meet since.
“I am grateful that, for 36 years, David and I were able to implement our coaching philosophy of trying to develop well-rounded young women who are ready to make a difference in the lives of others upon their graduation from this university,” Patterson said.
The Pattersons, whose final Alabama team won the 2014 Southeastern Conference and NCAA Seattle Regional championships and finished fourth at the NCAA Championships in Birmingham, Alabama, led the Crimson Tide to a record 20 NCAA Super Six Team Finals appearances, and an NCAA-best 27 top-four national finishes. Alabama also has won 29 regional titles, more than any program in NCAA history.
The Crimson Tide’s Champions Plaza, which bears Sarah Patterson’s name and was dedicated in October 2013, sits in front of Coleman Coliseum, the home of Alabama gymnastics since the mid-1980s. The arena is where the Pattersons led Alabama to NCAA titles in 1991, '96 and 2002 and where, under their guidance, the gymnastics team has gone undefeated since midway through the 2009 season, both during the regular and postseasons.
• Duckworth named head coach at Alabama