Priess-Johnston makes her first appearance as Gymnastics’ head coach


Courtesy of UA Athletics

Ashley Priess-Johnston is introduced as the new head gymnastics coach on May 27 in the Naylor Stone Media Room in the Mal Moore Athletic Facility in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Robert Cortez | @robertcortez27, Contributing Writer

Friday morning, Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne and staff held a press conference to introduce the third head coach of the storied Alabama gymnastics program, Ashley Priess-Johnston.

“I’m so very honored to be stepping into this role as head coach of Alabama gymnastics,” Priess-Johnston said. “As I look out and see so many familiar faces, teammates, mentors and just current members of the Crimson Tide team, I’m reminded that I’m home,” Priess-Johnston said. “This is this is pretty amazing.”

Despite Byrne wanting to enter the coaching hunt with an open mind, Priess-Johnston was at the forefront of it. What kept Priess-Johnston looming in the mind of Byrne while conducting the search to replace former gymnastics head coach Dana Duckworth was her undeniable resume – a two-time national champion, 10-time All-American and has five years of coaching experience under her belt starting back in 2018 at the University of Illinois. But what made Priess-Johnston a special candidate was her collegiate career at the University of Alabama under Sarah Patterson.

She knows the championship culture of the program.

“When I go through coaching searches, I try to have a few different people in mind right off the bat and try to be very open minded,” Byrne said. “But Ashley was on that shortlist to begin with.” 

Byrne shared a special technique he uses when conducting research on potential coaching hires. He calls student-athletes who played for the school, including both athletes who competed and those who did not see their name in the starting lineup often.

Byrne blocks his number when making the call, to be discreet as possible. He then gives his first name and tells the former student-athlete he is calling that he “researches coaches.”

While this has worked in the past, it did not this time around. Byrne was questioned by Drew Watson, a former Auburn gymnast, about his identity. Despite Byrne’s tactic going askew, his recruitment of Priess-Johnston did not. Byrne did not just hear remarkable things from Watson, but from everyone else he spoke to regarding Priess-Johnston.

“What stood out even more were the comments made on [what happens] outside of the gym, her care and compassion, how she developed the entire person in every aspect,” Byrne said.  

In Priess-Johnston’s brief speech, she discussed her vision for the program as the head coach. Priess-Johnston reflected on why she chose to attend the University of Alabama for her collegiate career and it was because of the development of character and the family culture that  Patterson and her staff emphasized. Those are only a couple of ideas she wants to incorporate into the program.

“My number one priority is to value student-athletes’ well-being of all else,” Priess-Johnston said. “We will foster an environment that empowers everyone to have a voice. We will work with excellence to accomplish our goals academically. We will invest in our community and establish relationships that go beyond sport. We will compete for championships and create an atmosphere that is second to none. And we will strive tirelessly to enhance a tradition of excellence and legacy of champions that is Alabama gymnastics.”