Former Iowa men’s gymnastics head coach Tom Dunn reacts to program’s discontinuation

The Hawkeyes’ multi-decade head coach said he didn’t have an immediate reaction to the decision.


Ed Bornstein

Then-head coach of Iowa Men’s Gymnastics, Tom Dunn, watches his gymnasts on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2006 in the Iowa Gymnastics practice room.

Isaac Goffin, Assistant Sports Editor

Before the Aug. 21 announcement from the Iowa Athletics Department that four sports were to be discontinued, former Iowa men’s gymnastics head coach Tom Dunn’s phone rang.

The sport he had coached at Iowa from 1981 to 2010 was being dropped after this academic year. The call he received was about just that, as University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld and Athletic Director Gary Barta wanted to let him know what was happening.

“It kind of caught me off guard,” Dunn said. “I guess I didn’t have an immediate reaction.”

Dunn said he doesn’t know how he feels now about the decision, so he doesn’t know how he’ll feel when the program is officially eliminated from the department.

However, he said that Iowa has been good to him when he started coaching at the university and said it’s really hard to be down on the school.

“I felt that I had a lot of good support from the athletic department,” the former coach said. “[Former Athletic Director] Bump Elliott hired me and really would do anything that he could afford that I felt would help. [Former Athletic Director] Bob Bowlsby also was supportive of you know his wrestling background he kind of understood where gymnastics was because a lot of the wrestling programs had been dropped over the years.”

He said that Barta, his final athletic director, was also supportive. Dunn said that while looking at the other schools, a lot of them didn’t have that support.

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Dunn said there was always some attendance at the meets, though sometimes not as much as he wanted.

“We’ve had some pretty gung-ho fans and some good support, but it was always hard,” he said.

He added that meets at the Iowa Field House were often packed, but there were a lot more empty seats for competitions held at Carver-Hawkeye.

Carver-Hawkeye hosted the NCAA Men’s Gymnastics Championship in 1997 and 2000, and Dunn said they couldn’t fill the arena with fans, which was disappointing.

Where the team recruited gymnasts was a major change during the coach’s long tenure.

“When I first came to Iowa, the college program was fed primarily by Illinois high schools,” Dunn said. “But then the Illinois high school program kind of took a little dive. A lot of the good coaches retired, eventually, and women’s sports got bigger and bigger and the season was pushed out of the winter season and into the spring, and then the private club programs started to develop.”

With that, Dunn said, he was competing with the best club kids instead of those coming out of Illinois.

Since his retirement from coaching, Dunn has stayed in Iowa City, though his family now also has a condominium in Sister Bay, Wisconsin. He judged gymnastics competitions after his retirement as well, including some Big Ten and NCAA championships. He retired from that role last year.

Like many in the USA men’s gymnastics sphere, Dunn knows there’s change coming in the sport with only 12 NCAA programs remaining after this year and with club teams growing.

“I think it will move ahead,” the longtime coach said. “But it won’t be the same.”

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