Less than a week after learning head coach Aaron Murphy was suspended pending an investigation into possible violation of athletic department policy, the women’s gymnastics team posted a season-high score in its final home meet of the spring semester.
In lieu of Murphy’s absence, assistant coach Dierdre Mattocks Bertotti has temporarily assumed the head-coaching duties in an interim capacity.
While Mattocks Bertotti assumes the head coaching position, the coaching staff will be supplemented by former Temple men’s gymnastics athlete and coach Bill Roth, who has stepped in as interim assistant coach.
Murphy, a former athlete who competed for longtime Temple men’s gymnastics coach Fred Turoff, is currently in his ninth season as head coach. Prior to his current position, he served as an assisant coach for the men’s program, which was cut last year.
The athletic department declined to provide specifics as to what sparked the investigation, and did not provide a timeline other than to say it was “ongoing” and involving “personnel issues.”
Murphy’s suspension was announced nearly eight months after the resignation of former track & field coach Eric Mobley, who is being sued alongside the university and Senior Associate Athletic Director Kristen Foley for $10 million by a former athlete due to negative experiences of competing in Temple’s athletic department. In August, The Temple News published the findings of a seven-month investigation into Mobley’s program uncovering a years-long pattern of abuse and neglect that the administration overlooked for years.
Despite the absence of Murphy and the ensuing shake-up the coaching staff saw, fifth-year senior Jasmine Johnson said the team’s attitude improved.
“Morale was definitely higher than usual this week. It was great,” Johnson said. “It’s been really refreshing. It’s almost like the stress has been lifted off of us. We don’t feel a heavy burden on us.”
“I’ve never seen the girls so relaxed before a meet, so I really want us to keep this happy, positive vibe,” she added.
In Mattocks Bertotti’s first week in her new spot, the transition was smooth for both players and coaches.
“It went very smooth, the transition was somewhat easy,” Mattocks Bertotti said. “[At the start] it was just a lot going on. … [But] practice will go back to normal this coming week, we’ll have four to five days of practice.”
While players declined to comment on the specifics of Murphy’s suspension through an athletic spokesperson, Johnson said the presence of a new coach also motivated the team in its final home meet.
“[Working with Mattocks Bertotti] was a really great dynamic,” Johnson said. “I’ve never seen some of the girls come in so happy and eager to work. What got us going [last Saturday] is that we knew we had a different atmosphere. We have a new coach with us and we wanted to do really well, and as soon as we came out in warmups, it went great.”
Roth, who competed for Turoff in the 1990s before competing at the Olympic level, joined the team last Thursday. Gymnasts was noted by players for his high energy-levels.
“[Roth] has a lot of energy,” sophomore all-around Briana Odom said. “I think that it will help us a lot moving forward, even if we’re feeling a little bad in practice … he’s got so much energy that when you look at him, it radiates off of him and you get a little bit of energy. … Just having him in there to distract us and get us back into the game helps a lot.”
Roth, a former assistant coach for the men’s team and also formerly a head coach of a gym school he owned with his wife, has coaching experience in various capacities.
While Roth has experience and an allegiance to his former school, the interim assistant coach said his new position is more for helping out rather than searching for future employment with the team.
“I look at this job as a way to an awesome opportunity that gave both my wife and me so much,” Roth said. “Having the opportunity to come back to give back by coaching is awesome. … I’m just here to bring a neutral aspect to things.”
“Before I would even consider something like [a full-time coaching position] I am going to enjoy this experience,” Roth added.
Headed into a full week with the new coaching dynamic, Mattocks Bertotti is optimistic things will fall into a routine as the Owls prepare for their next meet at Ursinus on Sunday.
“I think some of the [positive attitude with the team] was from Roth,” Mattocks Bertotti said. “He’s very energetic he’s a good motivating speaker. So having him in the gym helps a great deal.”
EJ Smith can be reached at email@example.com, 215.204. 9537 or on Twitter @ejsmitty17