COLUMBIA — If every college coach has a dream job, there was never any doubt about the position that fell into that category for St. Louis native Shannon Welker.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
“I’ve been waiting for Mizzou to open for as long as I’ve been in college gymnastics,” said Welker, who was introduced as Missouri’s new gymnastics coach Thursday.
It’s not just the location, either. Sure, it helps that Welker — who has spent the last five years as an assistant at Michigan and nine years before that as the head coach and program director at the St. Louis Gymnastic Center — will be so close to home.
But Welker says the history of the school, the new gymnastics facility that opened in 2011 and the lure of competing in the Southeastern Conference also makes Missouri a tempting job.
“People think the same thing I thought — I think they believe it’s a program that can do more impressive things than maybe they’ve done in the past,” Welker said. “I certainly respect (what) coach (Charles Jacobson) and coach Rob (Drass) have done and I intend to build upon that.”
Welker, who Missouri athletic director Mike Alden said has agreed to a five-year contract worth $125,000 per year, is only the Tigers’ third gymnastics coach. Drass resigned in April after 14 years after a difficult 2013 season in which the Tigers finished with a 3-11 overall record, 0-7 in the SEC.
“You look at our league, and I think the expectations for Mizzou should be to consistently be a top-20 program, and we have been that in the past,” Alden said. “I think we’ve dipped a little bit the last several years, but I think the combination of the new facility we’ve built, the institution and the league that we’re in is that you should consistently be a top-20 program.”
Welker said that was a “realistic” goal, and he should know — his Michigan squad finished in the nation’s top 15 every year he was there. Welker also agreed with Alden that the next step beyond that is to reach the middle of the pack in the Southeastern Conference. The SEC reinforced its reputations as one of the nation’s best gymnastics conferences by sending four programs to the Super Six team final in April, with Florida taking home the national title.
“It’s a premier conference in gymnastics, so our goal is to chip away, chip away, and gradually and steadily, we’ll get ourselves competitive with the entire conference,” Welker said. “Now will it take some time? Absolutely. But I think we can close that gap every year.”
Welker won over Alden and associate athletic director Doug Gillin — who led the search — by presenting a detailed outline for how he plans on doing that. It established how he would to attack his first 30 days on the job, recruit certain areas, build connections and train his current gymnasts.
“He’d already done a thorough video analysis and scoring analysis on every one of our student-athletes and those that we signed as well, too,” Alden said. “I was impressed by that … it was detail, probably a higher level of detail than most of those I’ve done before.”
Welker plans to hit the ground running. He still needs to hire two assistants, but his first order of business will be recruiting. On Wednesday, Welker — who served as Michigan’s recruiting coordinator — plans on attending the Junior Olympic Nationals in Minneapolis.
“It’s probably the biggest recruiting opportunity of the year,” Welker said. “I’m going to hop on a plane, go up there for a couple days and introduce myself and represent the University of Missouri.”