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Alabama gymnastics coach steps down after 36 years

AP - Sports

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) -- Alabama gymnastics coach Sarah Patterson is stepping down after leading the Crimson Tide to six national titles in 36 seasons.

Patterson announced her decision on Tuesday, leaving a program she took over as a 22-year-old and built into a perennial contender. She has been dealing with degenerative problems in both knees for the past few years.

''This is something I have tried to postpone but, through ongoing consultation with my physicians, it has become evident that surgery to replace both knees is necessary,'' Patterson said. ''My physician shared with me that it will be a year or more before I am back to a normal lifestyle.''

She will remain as a special assistant to the athletic director and serve on the NCAA gymnastics committee starting in September. Alabama selected assistant Dana Duckworth as Patterson's replacement, pending formal approval by the board of trustees.

Duckworth won two individual NCAA championships at Alabama in the early 1990s.

Patterson posted 1,006 wins and 43 postseason championships during her tenure. The Tide's Champions Plaza outside Coleman Coliseum bears Patterson's name.

The gymnastics team has drawn an average of 10,000-plus fans for 11 consecutive years and won back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012.

''Although this is certainly not how any of us wanted Sarah's incredible coaching career to come to an end, we are excited that Sarah has agreed to continue to serve the university and this department,'' athletic director Bill Battle said. ''At this point, though, we are focused on her return to health. We will make every effort to continue the tremendous momentum that Sarah and David created and maintained for our gymnastics program.''

Patterson's husband, David, spent 30 years as the Tide's associate head coach before retiring and working as a volunteer coach. He also will step down.

''I am grateful that, for 36 years, David and I were able to implement our coaching philosophy of trying to develop well-rounded young women who are ready to make a difference in the lives of others upon their graduation from this University,'' Patterson said.

The Tide won the Southeastern Conference title and claimed an NCAA-best 27th top four national finish last season.

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