ATHENS — Georgia gymnastics fans finally got what they wanted. They’re bringing back Suzanne Yoculan to coach.
Oh, it’s not exactly in the capacity everybody expected. The Bulldogs’ announced their hire of one of their all-time great gymnasts, Courtney Kupets-Carter, as the actual head coach of their once-proud gymnastics program. But her appointment came with a rather significant asterisk — Kupets-Carter was bringing back Yoculan with her.
Kupets-Carter sort of snuck that in about halfway through her introductory news conference at the Stegeman Training Facility on Tuesday.
Yoculan, you may recall, led Georgia to 10 gymnastics national championships, including five in a row. She is going to be Kupets-Carter’s volunteer assistant coach.
That’s a big deal.
In football terms, that’s like bringing back a retired Bill Belichick as your unpaid assistant. That he’s unpaid and not the head coach is not the point. The point is he knows a thing or two about football and building programs and that he’s on staff.
Same here with gymnastics. The Kupets-Carter hire is a good one that stands on its own merits, in my opinion. But Yoculan’s addition takes it to another level.
“I’m just so thankful that she would come back and take the time to invest back into the program that she started,” said Kupets-Carter, who is just eight years removed from graduating from UGA. “So it’s going to be a monumental year for the program and for the athletes who get to experience a little bit of what I experienced with Suzanne.”
Kupets-Carter didn’t announce any other hires. As far as we know, she hasn’t made any yet. But it doesn’t matter. This is the only one that needed mentioning.
Together, Kupets-Carter and Yoculan give Georgia instant credibility in college gymnastics. These are names that everybody in the business knows. That they’ve rejoined forces under the UGA flag surely sent some reverberations across the U.S. gymnastics community.
“Name recognition is huge in this profession,” Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said. “Gymnasts of all ages know who Courtney Kupets is. Gymnastics is a tight-knit community. I felt like this was a good opportunity that maybe was not traditional.”
No, it’s unusual for sure. Yoculan believes she is the only former head coach in the country who will be working for no pay as an volunteer assistant. But it’s not a small role she’ll assume. And as anybody who knows anything about Yoculan will tell you, no role she fills is a small.
As a volunteer assistant, the 63-year-old Yoculan will be able to coach in the gym, which is something she’s relishing doing again. She will also be able to call recruits on the phone and she’ll be able to meet with recruits and their parents when they come to campus. Her only limitation is she won’t be able to go on the road recruiting.
“It was all her idea,” Yoculan insisted. “Honestly, I live here, I have plenty of days where I sit around and not do a lot. My primary focus is my family, but we’re going to work it out and work on the schedule together. It will be an unusual arrangement.”
Yoculan plans to reserve two days a week during the season to babysit her two grandchildren. Otherwise, she’ll be raring to go in the gym.
This is a big hire for McGarity. A lot of his other ones haven’t gone so well. Oh, the jury’s still out on football coach Kirby Smart and the track and women’s golf hires have worked out well so far.
But this is McGarity’s second try on gymnastics. He just fired Danna Durante two weeks ago, having hired her only four years earlier. And he’s about to have to make another hard decision on the baseball coach he hired four years ago.
But the first blush here is that McGarity did well. The only bigger splash he could have made would have been to hire Yoculan herself as the head coach. He did admit Tuesday that Yoculan was the first call he made when he turned his attention to this coaching search, but he insists it was for nothing more than advice.
“I asked her to help me,” McGarity said. “I asked her to provide me some advice. I ask her for advice a lot. But I wasn’t going to asked that question.”
Yoculan sort of hems and haws around that discussion. She finally admitted that “there was conversation of that,” but it’s not something she seriously considered.
“I would never do that,” Yoculan said. “I am a grandmother first and a voluntary coach second.”
But not just any ol’ voluntary coach. Then again, she’s probably not just any ol’ grandmother either.