As someone who grew up with a father in the military, I moved a lot — 13 schools in 12 years. When I was in 10th grade, my family moved from Europe back to the U.S. so I could finish high school here. When I began attending UCF in the fall of 1979, I had no idea my 14th school would become such a permanent part of my life. This fall is my 40th season as UCF’s cheer head coach.
I am proud to say that I am a first-generation college graduate. My parents made great sacrifices for me to be able to attend college and, from a financial standpoint, staying home here in Orlando and commuting to campus made the most sense. I loved history and enjoyed my part-time job coaching gymnastics, so I thought I could combine those two passions by majoring in social science education. UCF was definitely in the news heading into that fall of 1979. Our name had just been changed from Florida Technological University to the University of Central Florida, and we had started a football team.
I remember going with friends to one of those first home games and sitting right in front of the cheerleaders. I was so interested in watching this co-ed cheerleading team do these acrobatic stunts and skills. I was a competitive gymnast through high school, so all of these flips were right up my alley. When the spring rolled around, a friend picked up all of the tryout paperwork for me and said, “You have just got to try out.” And so I did.
I made the team that spring of 1980 and cheered for four years. We didn’t have a coach back then. We had an advisor who handled the paperwork and ran the tryout process, but beyond that, we were a very independent group. We had captains who ran practices, and we used the school van to drive ourselves to away football and basketball games. These were the early years of football and basketball when legendary coach Torchy Clark was still king. Basketball games against cross-town rival Rollins College were standing room only in the old UCF Education Complex and Gym. It was just so much fun.
By August of 1984, the university decided to move cheerleading from the Dean of Students’ office over to Athletics, which meant they needed a coach. I applied, got the job and I have been here ever since. I met my husband Alan Gooch ’84 ’89MA (a former UCF football player who coached football here for 22 years) and we settled here close to the university to raise our family.
I have had a lot of people through the years who have asked me “How could you stay at the same place for so long?” But the truth is that UCF hasn’t been the same place for all those years.
When I was hired to coach in the mid ’80s and early ’90s, this was a different place. Football began making it into the postseason playoffs, going 10 straight years with winning records. We made the move to Division I-A football — and then came Daunte Culpepper. We beat Alabama at their homecoming game up at Bryant-Denny Stadium and won a couple of cheerleading national championships in 2003 and 2007. The basketball team made it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 1994. Then, in the fall of 2007, we built a new basketball arena and the on-campus football stadium. The decision to build the Bounce House changed everything.
The next thing you know, I turn around and I’m not at the Tangerine Bowl anymore. I’m the cheerleading coach at a school with the only undefeated Division I-A football team in the U.S. We’re hosting College GameDay, winning another cheerleading national championship, winning the Peach Bowl, winning a football national championship, back-to-back undefeated football seasons and then we take Duke to the wire in the NCAA Tournament.
All of that right here at UCF — and I have been blessed to have a front row seat to it all. And the reward for Alan and I both has not been reaching those peaks. It has been the adventure of the climb.
Staying and building something great and being a part of so many firsts at this great university has been an incredible experience. As an alum and staff member, I’ve had plenty of reasons to proudly rep Black & Gold for more than 40 years. UCF has accomplished so much in its 60-year history — and I know there is still so much to keep cheering for.
Linda Gooch ’85 is UCF’s cheer head coach and a former four-year letter-winner as a UCF cheerleader. She is a 2022 inductee into the UCF Athletics Hall of Fame.