Although neither Alabama Athletics Director Bil Battle nor Sarah Patterson used the word “resignation” or “retirement,” it was made clear that necessary replacement of both of Patterson’s knees means the end of her extraordinary coaching career.
Two-time NCAA balance beam champion Dana Duckworth, who has served as an assistant coach, has been named successor to Patterson as head coach.
Legendary Alabama gymnastics coach Sarah Patterson is stepping down as the Crimson Tide’s head coach 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 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,” Dr. 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.”
Duckworth has been named as Patterson’s successor, pending approval of The University of Alabama Board of Trustees.
“When it became evident that Sarah Patterson would be stepping down, we knew that the pieces were already in place to continue our championship tradition,” Battle said. “We are proud to announce that Dana Duckworth, one of the most successful gymnasts in our storied history, will lead us into the future.”
After four years as a gymnast, nine seasons as a volunteer coach and the last six as an assistant coach, Duckworth’s first as head coach will be her 20th year with the Alabama program. She will be the Tide’s first new head gymnastics coach in 36 years and its sixth overall. Duckworth’s promotion is subject to approval by The University of Alabama Board of Trustees.
“This is such an amazing opportunity,” Duckworth said. “It is the best job in all of gymnastics and I’m extremely proud to be able to continue to be a part of this incredible tradition.”
“I am pleased that Dana has agreed to become Alabama’s next championship gymnastics coach,” UA President, Dr. Judy Bonner said. “Her ability to bring out the best in our student-athletes will mean continued success for the team and for each individual gymnast. I am confident that our student-athletes will continue to thrive in and out of the classroom, and I look forward to watching these young women compete at the highest levels for many years to come.”
It was also announced that long-time assistant coach Bryan Raschilla will also remain a part of the Crimson Tide staff.
In addition to being a two-time individual national champion, Duckworth was an eight-time All-American, an Academic All-American and an NCAA and SEC Postgraduate Scholarship winner during her career as a student-athlete.
“I love our environment, I love our culture, I love our tradition and I love the fact that as an Alabama gymnast you represent all those things," Duckworth said.
It was those same elements that made her decision to leave a lucrative career with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals to join the Alabama coaching staff on a full-time basis in the fall of 2008 after nearly a decade as a volunteer coach such an easy one.
"I really enjoyed what I was doing at Pfizer and it's a tremendous company but my heart and my passion have always been here at the Capstone with our program," Duckworth said. "I felt like this was an opportunity for me to do what I love and everyone I have ever talked to has said, if you love what you do, you'll never go to another day of work in your life."
It was an equally easy decision for Sarah and David Patterson - Duckworth’s mentors as a gymnast and as a coach - when they asked her to return to the program as a fulltime assistant coach.
"Dana has always been a great role model for our ladies," Sarah Patterson said. "She enjoyed tremendous success in all aspects of her Alabama career and her championship experience is an invaluable resource as she and Bryan move this program into the future."
Duckworth has experienced national team championships as both an athlete and a coach, having been a part of the Tide's 1991 NCAA title as a sophomore and the 2002, 2011 and 2012 NCAA championships as a coach. She has also won conference titles as an athlete (1990) and a coach (2003, 2009, 2011 and 2014).
As much as Duckworth appreciates the championship tradition she has been a part of for so long, it's the overall atmosphere created by the people who live, work and go to school at Alabama that she truly appreciates.
"The people at the University of Alabama make everything unique and special," Duckworth said. "I love the fact that the University of Alabama is about tradition and culture. I tell people all the time that I feel like Tuscaloosa is the best-kept secret because we have it all here and everyone approaches things with a great deal of passion. It makes everyone’s experience very special."
After graduating from Alabama with a bachelor's degree in Telecommunications and Film, Duckworth moved up the corporate ladder quickly at AMX Corporation, a high-tech firm based in Dallas, Texas. She finished her tenure there as manager of the company's training programs. After receiving her master's degree from Alabama, she served as Director of Marketing of a Trussville-based automotive company followed by a stint as Vice-President of Corporate Solutions for a Birmingham company before returning to Tuscaloosa for a successful run with Pfizer.
The Michigan native is married to Joe Duckworth, a Tuscaloosa native and co-owner of Duckworth-Morris Real Estate. The couple has a daughter, Camryn, and a son, Jace.
“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, where 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, led Alabama to a record 20 NCAA Super Six Team Finals appearances, and an NCAA-best 27 top-4 national finishes. Alabama also has won 29 regional titles, more than any program in NCAA history.
“I would like to thank Coach Battle, President Bonner and, of course, Marie Robbins, a member of our first national championship team in 1988 and now Alabama’s senior woman administrator, for their unconditional support during this time,” Patterson said. “This is certainly not a joyous time for David and I, but I know it is this right decision for us personally, as well as it being the best decision for the long-term success of the gymnastics program.”
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, 1996 and 2002 and where, under their guidance, the gymnastics team has gone undefeated since mid-way through the 2009 season, both during the regular and postseasons.
Alabama Gymnastics under Sarah and David Patterson
— 6 NCAA Team Championships - 1988, 1991, 1996, 2002, 2011, 2012
— 32 Consecutive NCAA Championship Appearances – 1983-14
— NCAA-best 27 NCAA Championship top-4 finishes
— NCAA-best 22 NCAA Championship top-3 finishes
— NCAA-best 20 Super Six Team Finals
— 8 SEC Team Championships - 1988, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2003, 2009, 2011, 2014
— NCAA-best 29 Regional Team Championships -1983-85, 1987-96, 1998-03, 2005-14
— 4 NCAA Today’s Top VIII?honorees
— 1 Honda Cup (National Woman Athlete of the Year)
— 8 Honda Awards (National Gymnast of the Year)
— 25 individual NCAA titles
— 18 NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships
— 5 NCAA Elite 89 honors
— 66 athletes have earned 302 All-America honors
— 73 athletes have earned 189 Scholastic All-America honors (since 1991)
— 5 SEC Athletes of the Year
— 3 SEC Scholar-Athletes of the Year
— 60 individual SEC titles
— 88 All-SEC honors
— 11 SEC Postgraduate Scholarships
— 275 SEC Academic Honor Roll accolades
— 6 SEC Gymnast of the Year honors
— 5 SEC Gymnastics Scholar-Athlete of the Year honors
— 3 SEC Freshman of the Year honors
— 8 NCAA Region Gymnast of the Year honors
— 145 individual NCAA Regional titles
— SEC single-meet attendance record (15,162 vs. Florida; Jan. 20, 2006)
— SEC single-season attendance record (13,786 per meet; 2010)