LEXINGTON, Ky (WTVQ) – Back in 2008, Ryan Martin O’Connor was a freshman cheerleader at Kentucky. Fast forward 12 years and she’s the program’s new head coach. She’s taking over for Jomo Thompson who was fired last month. O’Connor says this is her dream job, but she’s taking over the program amid controversy. Was their any hesitation to apply? In one word, No.
“As soon as I saw that they were going to be looking for a new coach my husband and I said this was the dream. No hesitations at all,” said O’Connor as she addressed the media for the first Monday morning. “Really excited about everyone here that’s been in the program and also to move it forward.”
O’Connor would end transferring to the University of Alabama where she’d win two national titles. She’s taking over a program who has won 24 national titles. The pressure would be there if there were no drama, but now the spotlight is even brighter with how Jomo’s tenure ended and she says bring it on.
“I think pressure is a privilege,” said O’Connor. “It’s something I always say to my athletes and it’s something that I really believe being able to even be under pressure means you’ve done something right to be in the spotlight or to be in that position so I really do think of it as that.”
Pressure is something O’Connor says she’s been around her whole life. She’s not wrong. She’s been on cheerleading reality shows twice. Once as a high school cheerleader at Dunbar with her mom Donna Martin who’s very well-known in the cheer world. Then again last summer when she coached at Ole Miss before heading to coach at Western Kentucky. She also has gold medals when cheering for Team USA. This is a different challenge and she’s reached out for help. Who better than someone who has been in her shoes? She’s cheered for former UK head coach Salem Habash and worked with former UK assistant David McDowell. She says she’s talked to all of them for advice including Jomo Thompson.
“I had already reached out to David and Saleem about their advice just with the University of Kentucky and what they could do and I’ve already talked to Jomo just in the last two weeks just about what it really means to be here,” said O’Connor. “Obviously, I have an understanding of it, but it certainly means something different to everybody that comes through this program an athlete or a coach. I know that I have big shoes to fill, but I also know that I can do it with their help and will all the knowledge that I gained just through my time as a cheerleader and a coach.”
Next up, tryouts. O’Connor and other former UK cheerleaders will review video submissions and hopefully announce the new team by July 10th. She says she’s already started to interview coaches fur her staff, but won’t finalize it until after tryouts.