Former OU gymnastics coach Paul Ziert led Oklahoma to its first two national championships in the sport after just four years of running the program. He also recruited U.S. gold medal gymnast Bart Conner to Oklahoma. Thirty years later the program is still producing Olympians, sending two and two other alternatives to the London Games.
Ziert spoke of how he came to OU and the challenges he faced as a collegiate coach.
I got hired in 1973. I was coaching and teaching. My degree is in mathematics. I have a master's degree from Stanford. Finished that in '72 and I was coaching and teaching on the south side of Chicago. I had sent a couple of my gymnasts here and they had enjoyed it a lot. The guy who was the coach then, Russ Porterfield was his name, had gotten to know me and he said, “I want you to apply for the job.” So I came down and applied for the job and they gave it to me.
I had been offered the job at Stanford the year before when I finished. But I had planned to go back to the high school and it was late in the summer when the previous coach at Stanford resigned. I felt, ethically, I had to turn it down because I was afraid they wouldn't be able to get another person who could teach an academic subject and coach gymnastics at the high school where I was. I turned it down thinking, “My goodness, I might never get another opportunity.” But then I did and it was to come here.
They had a base out there, it was called South base, when I got hired. And we worked in a building for where they had entertainment of the military personnel. So in the room where worked out was the theater where they showed movies and did entertainment.
I recruited Bart. He came here right from the Olympic Games to a clinic I was doing down at North Texas State in the summer. Right from Montreal, he came directly there. And then he started working. The first year he was here we won the NCAA championships. We won another one the next year.