Penn State women’s gymnastics coach fired after past accusations of mental, verbal abuse

Penn State gymnasts prep for the beam during the 2014 NCAA Women's Regional Championships on Saturday, April 5, 2014 ini Rec Hall.
Penn State gymnasts prep for the beam during the 2014 NCAA Women's Regional Championships on Saturday, April 5, 2014 ini Rec Hall. CDT file photo

Less than a year after allegations surfaced of mental and verbal abuse, Penn State has fired women’s gymnastics coach Jeff Thompson.

The university made the announcement Thursday afternoon but did not specify the reason for Thompson’s dismissal. A spokesperson also declined comment when asked if the firing was the result of a review turned over last spring to the ethics and compliance office.

Thompson told The Centre Daily Times on Thursday that he contacted his attorney and looks forward to addressing this in the future.

“I have a lot to say,” he said. “Just not at the moment.”

Allegations of Thompson’s misconduct were first reported last April in an enterprise story by The Daily Collegian’s Morganne Mallon and Erin McCarthy. In it, several gymnasts recounted how they felt both verbally and emotionally abused — far beyond what they considered reasonable.

Former Penn State gymnast Shealyn Farley, whom Thompson once said he expected “to be one of the best gymnasts in the NCAA,” contemplated suicide after she said she was demeaned and forced to practice with an injured knee. Another Penn State gymnast, Stephanie Brock, said she was also pressured to practice despite a painful shin injury.

“This is very relieving to me,” Brock said Thursday night. “In the back of my mind, ever since everything came to light, I was hoping that something would be done by the Penn State administration — whether it would be to fire him or disciplinary actions or just something that would say, ‘You know, we looked into it and we’re doing something about it.’

“It’s just very relieving that I can go to my old gym and the girls that are getting ready to go to college, and I can tell them, ‘You can go to Penn State now.’ I love Penn State, and I’ve been waiting for this day, so I can go to those girls and say, ‘Go to my alma mater.’ ”

Thompson’s wife, Rachelle, was the associate head coach last season but resigned in May following the reports of abuse. Rachelle coached the program for six seasons; Jeff became the Nittany Lions’ ninth-ever head coach on July 15, 2010.

Penn State Athletic Director Sandy Barbour told The Centre Daily Times last year that an uncompleted review regarding the student-athletes’ claims was turned over to the ethics and compliance office last spring. But the results of that review are unknown. The university said in a news release that, because this is a personnel matter, it will have no further comment.

A national search for a new coach will begin immediately. For the rest of this season, assistant coaches Kera Molinaro and Josh Nilson will serve as the interim co-head coaches.

Reached by phone Thursday, several current members of the women’s gymnastics team declined to comment substantively.

They did not say whether they supported Thompson or his dismissal. But they did say the decision took them by surprise, as they also just learned of his firing on Thursday.

“Our athletic director just made a decision today, and we’re looking to the rest of the season,” junior Chanen Raygoza said.

The Nittany Lions host Pittsburgh at Rec Hall on 4 p.m. Saturday.