As the gymnasts prepare to face some of the most rigorous challenges against the most competitive teams in the Big Ten, they can feel more prepared knowing that they are being led by one of the most experienced coaches in the league.
Randy Jepson, now in his 21st season as head coach of Penn State, has the knowledge and experience to help the team carry on the winning tradition of previous years. His background is proof enough that the rest of the season will be promising for the team.
He has led the men's gymnastics program to three national championships and two Big Ten titles in his tenure. The No. 1 Nittany Lions are undefeated this season, downing Army by nearly 45 points, and outperforming six teams to become champions of the Navy Open. Despite the team's success thus far, Jepson refuses to let up at practices.
“One of my focuses this week is to count no more than four [missed points],” Jepson said. “That’s a tall order. If we can do that, we’ll put up a great score.”
The record this season comes as no surprise, taking Jepson's track record into consideration. Under his direction, his athletes have won a total of 97 All-American honors. Although an impressive feat, Jepson outdid himself when he coached gymnast Mark Sohn to four consecutive pommel horse national championships from 1988 to 1991.
Even though he honed the skills of some of the best gymnasts in the country, Jepson allocates much of the credit to the rest of his coaching staff.
“We’re very much a team,” Jepson said. “We all have our areas of expertise and experience. I don’t have all the answers, and we want our athletes to get the best out of all of us.”
During his tenure as head coach, he has been named the National Coach of the Year in 2000, 2004, and 2007. In 2011, the College Gymnastics Association awarded Jepson with the Honor Coach Award as he has dedicated more than 25 years of his life to the sport.
Prior to his appointment as head coach, the Penn State alumnus not only served as an assistant coach for six seasons, but also won the Assistant Coach of the Year during his last year. The men's gymnastics program prides itself on retaining head coaches for as long as possible. To put things in perspective, the coach before Jepson, Karl Schier, reigned for 14 years and his predecessor for 37 years.
Carlos Vazquez, currently in his first year as assistant coach, said, “the most important thing I learned from him is the way he interacts with the kids.” He added, “his philosophy of coaching is one team, and that’s something I really admire.”
Leading by example, Jepson's extensive background competing in gymnastics helps him guide his athletes to their fullest potential. After spending three years at the University of Oregon, Jepson transferred to Penn State his senior year and became captain that year. The Portland, Ore. native won All-American honors on his best event, the rings, in his last year of competition. In a meet in 1983, Jepson scored a perfect 10.0 on the rings, an impressive accomplishment for any gymnast.
At Oregon, Jepson said his team didn’t have the best athletes, but constantly worked to improve with repetition after repetition.
“That’s helped my understanding of what athletes have to do and all those things have come together to help me coach,” Jepson said.
Even with numerous awards and honors under his belt, his athletes attest to his modesty and kindness when he is out coaching on the mat.
“He’s been building up this team, and this is a great opportunity for us to prove to everyone that we can be a real player in the league,” senior Nihir Kothari said.