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Florida hires Jenny Rowland as head gymnastics coach

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A former Auburn assistant is trading up in orange and blue.

This photo of Alex McMurtry's hair is amazing.
This photo of Alex McMurtry's hair is amazing.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Florida has hired Auburn assistant coach Jenny Rowland as its head gymnastics coach, the school announced in a release on Saturday. Rowland and Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley each issued statements via the release.

Rowland's:

"I’m so excited for this opportunity to become the Gator gymnastics head coach. Obviously, Rhonda [Faehn] has built Gator gymnastics into a model program. A key focus for me will be developing relationships with the current and past Gators, as well as building a connection with the gymnasts who will represent the Gators in the future.

"Jeremy Foley, Lynda Tealer and I all share a vision of continued success for Gator gymnastics. I look forward to working with this tremendous group of Gators and being a part of the Florida program."

Foley's:

"When we started this search, there was one name that kept coming up - Jenny Rowland. What Auburn has done over the past few seasons is quite impressive and she’s played a big role in the Tigers’ progress. We feel confident she’s ready to guide the Gator program.

"She wants Gator gymnasts to thrive in all aspects of their student-athletic career – in the classroom, in the competitive arena and in developing the life skills to be successful following college. She knows what is like to be a competitor on the national, international and collegiate stages. She has what it takes to be a successful recruiter as she’s built relationships with so many in the gymnastics world.

"We welcome Jenny, her husband, Garon and their daughters Ella and Emmy, to the Gator program."

The hire is an interesting one, to be sure: Rowland, then Jenny Ester, was a U.S. National Team member in the late 1980s, coinciding with former Florida coach Rhonda Faehn's tenure as a senior national team performer. And she, like Faehn, competed in what was then the Pac-10 as a collegiate gymnast, attending Arizona State before being forced to retire by injury and finishing her academic career at Oklahoma.

Unlike Faehn, though, Rowland is a native Texan — and Texas is churning out some of the best American gymnasts, and has been for years. Five of the 13 gymnasts on Florida's 2015 national championship squad hail from Texas, and the state is a fertile recruiting ground for out-of-state programs, thanks to its lacks of an in-state Division I program. (Texas Woman's University, which visited Florida for a meet in 2015, competes on the Division II level.)

Hiring a Texan who is an Oklahoma graduate and former Oklahoma assistant would seem to be a good way to continue Florida's recruiting success in the Lone Star State. And hiring Rowland, who has helped Auburn surprise in recent years as an assistant to Jeff Graba — the Tigers made the Super Six in 2015 for the first time since 1993, thanks in part to four Texans of their own — would seem to be giving a talented assistant a first shot at taking over a program.

Rowland will have a titanic task before her, considering Faehn's accomplishments, and recent hires of assistants to replace departing legends have been a mixed bag. Georgia slid considerably under Jay Clark, who took over for the legendary Susan Yoculan, and Alabama failed to make the Super Six in 2015, its first season under longtime Sarah Patterson assistant Dana Duckworth, after making the previous seven Super Sixes (and winning national championships in 2011 and 2012) under Patterson.

But those assistants were promoted from within; Rowland comes from outside Faehn's coaching tree, which will make it interesting to see whether she retains Faehn assistants Adrian Burde and Robert Ladanyi, but also makes her hire part of a different pattern. External hires got Graba (formerly a Utah assistant) his job at Auburn, and Oklahoma coach K.J. Kindler (formerly Iowa State's head coach) her gig in Norman, and Georgia's rebounded since Clark's resignation with the hiring of Danna Durante, who came to Athens from Cal. These are small sample sizes, to be sure, but new blood has, of late, trumped familiar faces when it comes to installing new head coaches.

Rowland inherits a program as stocked as any in the sport, as the three-time defending national champions will still have Bridget Sloan and a host of other talented athletes in 2016. And it will be incumbent upon her to sustain success.

Rowland is being given the keys to a kingdom. Let's hope she continues to build it.