The second greatest coach in Alabama athletics history announced her retirement Tuesday.
Sarah Patterson called it a career after 36 years of coaching the school’s gymnastics team. She walked through the doors at Alabama in 1978 looking for a job, with the ink on her Slippery Rock University diploma still wet.
The greatest coach in Alabama athletics history is the one who agreed to hire her — Bear Bryant. She was the last coach on campus hired by the legendary athletics director and football coach.
She originally was hired as a graduate assistant coach to Tom Steele, but Steele left the program before the season began. Patterson was promoted, not realizing that Alabama planned to dump the gymnastics program after the season.
She often jokes about how when she first took over the program, some of the men in the athletics department called her the “slimnastics” coach. That changed.
In Patterson’s first season, Alabama posted its first winning season in the program’s five years of existence. Bryant allowed the program to continue. Patterson had proven herself a winner.
When Patterson went to then-associate athletics director Sam Bailey asking for money for a floor exercise mat, it was Bryant who told Bailey, “Let the little lady have what she wants.”
Patterson never stopped winning. The Crimson Tide advanced to the NCAA meet for the first time in 1983, finishing fourth. After that, Alabama placed no lower than fourth place every year but four. In 1997 and 2007, the Crimson Tide was ninth. Alabama was fifth in 2000 and sixth in 2008.
That streak includes six national titles, seven runners-up and nine third-place finishes. Alabama hasn’t lost to Auburn since 1979. Alabama gymnastics home meets regularly outdraw the men’s basketball team’s home games. Her athletes are regulars on the school’s academic honor rolls.
And all that happened under the direction of a coach who just happened to walk through the door one day, just hoping to get a job as a graduate assistant.