Sports Chris Waller resigns after three years as UCLA gymnastics...

Chris Waller resigns after three years as UCLA gymnastics coach

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UCLA gymnastics coach Chris Waller is resigning effective immediately, the school announced Tuesday, bringing his three-year tenure to an abrupt end.

Waller’s contract was set to end on June 30. UCLA said it will conduct a national search to find a replacement to steer the popular gymnastics program after the Bruins failed to qualify for the NCAA championships as a team for two consecutive years for the first time in program history.

Waller was a 17-year assistant under former head coach Valorie Kondos Field before ascending to the top spot in 2019. He was an NCAA champion as a gymnast and competed in the 1992 Olympics, advancing to the all-around final and finishing fifth in the pommel horse.

Although he took over the UCLA program at the height of its popularity following a 2018 national championship and a viral floor routine in 2019 from Katelyn Ohashi, Waller’s head coaching tenure has been tumultuous. His first season ended suddenly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The following year more than half of his top-ranked freshman class was vying for Olympic spots during the coronavirus-delayed Tokyo Games. Despite more viral floor routines from Nia Dennis and Margzetta Frazier that elevated UCLA’s brand of joyful and inclusive gymnastics amid the national conversation about social justice, the Bruins were short-handed and missed the NCAA championships for the first time since 2006.

UCLA appeared to be poised for a bounce-back year with elite stars like Olympic silver medalist Jordan Chiles, all-around finalist Brooklyn Moors and Olympic alternate Emma Malabuyo. But a preseason incident involving a former team member using racist language caused a rift between coaches and some gymnasts that lingered through the season.

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The Times reported that gymnasts were frustrated with Waller and the coaching staff after they prioritized the mental health of a non-Black teammate over concerns from Black gymnasts who asked her not to use racial slurs, including the N-word, even while singing lyrics. The incident prompted meetings with experts inside and outside of the athletic department that continued after the teammate had transferred.

The tension led the Bruins to their worst score in seven years when they opened the season in Minnesota with a 194.85. They found their rhythm late in the season, including a 198.05 against California at home that was their highest score since 2019, but missed the NCAA championship cut by 0.025.

When Waller, UCLA’s longest tenured assistant under Kondos Field, took over the head coaching position, the remaining assistants also got head coaching jobs. Former assistant Randy Lane became the inaugural women’s gymnastics coach at Long Island University, where he hired former UCLA gymnast Hallie Mossett as an assistant. Former UCLA volunteer assistant Jordyn Wieber is the head coach at Arkansas, where she has former UCLA gymnasts Felicia Hano and Kyla Ross on her coaching staff.

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