CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Illinois men’s gymnastics icon Justin Spring, who has served the Fighting Illini as head coach for the last 12 seasons and led the program to the 2012 NCAA Championship, is leaving the Illini in a move to the University of Alabama as an assistant coach for the Crimson Tide women’s program. He joins new Alabama head coach Ashley Johnston, who served as an assistant coach at Illinois under Coach Nadalie Walsh during the 2018 season.
“I want to thank Justin for his many years of tremendous leadership and service to the University of Illinois and Fighting Illini Men’s Gymnastics,” said Director of Athletics Josh Whitman. “Justin’s legacy as an Illini is beyond reproach. He is a multi-time national champion as both a competitor and a coach. He is an Olympic medalist, and he is a member of the Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame. He has been a positive influence on this program since the day he arrived on campus, and his contagious energy is felt throughout our department. His departure leaves a void that will not be easily filled. He has been a tremendous friend and colleague, and we wish him, Tori, and their children all the best on their newest adventure.”
Spring joined the Illinois program as an assistant coach for four seasons immediately upon conclusion of his eligibility and, beginning with the 2010-11 season, he ascended to the head coaching position. In his 12 seasons as the head coach of the men’s gymnastics program, Spring guided 11 gymnasts to NCAA event titles, including three NCAA champions in 2010, 2011 and 2012, while Illini gymnasts racked up 79 All-America honors.
“It’s impossible to sum up my 20-year experience that I’ve had at the University of Illinois,” Spring said. “Just trying to put thoughts into words for this press release brings heavy tears to my eyes. When I made a decision to come here back in 2001, I never dreamed that I would have the opportunities and success that I have had, as well as making life-long friendships within this amazing community. I’m moving on to an exciting new opportunity but the Fighting Illini and Champaign-Urbana will always have a special place in my heart.”
Spring’s teams earned four Big Ten championships in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2018, and he was named National Coach of the Year in 2012 after guiding Illinois to its 10th NCAA team championship, becoming the youngest coach in NCAA history to earn National Coach of the Year honors.
As a student-athlete, Spring was one of the most decorated gymnasts in school history. He was a four-time NCAA champion, 13-time All-American, three-time Big Ten champion, two-time Illinois Athlete of the Year, and, following his senior season, Spring was selected for the Nissen-Emery Award, bestowed annually upon the nation’s top male gymnast. He enjoyed similar success in international competition, culminated by his participation in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when he helped USA Gymnastics capture a surprising bronze medal.
Spring was a two-time UI Dike Eddleman Athlete of the Year award winner, and, in 2018, Spring was inducted into the University of Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame. He was a five-time U.S. Senior National Team member with an extensive international competition record.