ATHENS — Seeking to revive one of its most visible teams, UGA has taken a bold move: Courtney Kupets, one of the best gymnasts in UGA and NCAA history, is returning as head coach despite very limited coaching experience.
And Kupets first act was to bring back Suzanne Yoculan, who built the program into a national power before retiring in 2009. Yoculan was named to be a volunteer coach.
“Georgia gymnastics will win championships again,” Kupets said.
UGA won 10 national championships under Yoculan, including in her last five years. Since then it has struggled to reach its past glory, going through two coaches who were fired. Now it turns to Kupets, who at 30 years old is believed to be UGA’s youngest head coach in any sport, and since last year has been a coach at a local club.
But Yoculan said she’s confident it will work and that this was the best hire for Georgia.
“I don’t know that anyone that’s at another school who’s a really great head coach wants to come to Georgia, where there’s a dynasty here. They want to create their own,” Yoculan said. “Courtney can create her own, but it’s part of her own.”
Kupets was named the “best-ever” women’s gymnasts in NCAA history last month, by the NCAA. Georgia won four national championships during Kupets’ time on the team, and Kupets won nine individual NCAA championships.
An Olympian in 2004, Kupets won the bronze medal in the uneven bars at the Athens Olympics.
“She’s the most qualified person there is,” Yoculan said, also saying that Kupets through her Olympic and national team experience has contacts all over the country in the gymnastics world. “There’s no one in the country that doesn’t respect Courtney Kupets and what she’s accomplished and the kind of person that she is. And from a recruiting standpoint she has that access.”
Yoculan said there was also no talk of returning herself as head coach and making Kupets the coach-in-waiting.
“There was conversation of that. I would never do that,” Yoculan said. “I am a grandmother first and a voluntary coach second.”
Kupets succeeds Danna Durante, who was fired two weeks ago after five years on the job. Durante had succeeded Jay Clark, now an assistant at LSU, who was fired after three seasons on the job.
After winning five straight national championships before Yoculan retired, the Gym Dogs have failed to finish higher than fifth at the NCAA meet, and finished 12th this season.
“We all have seen, it’s not been what it was. It’s not been what it was in my time,” said Kupets, who also addressed her lack of coaching experience. “First of all, I know I have the knowledge about gymnastics. I have the college experience. I have the passion and the drive … More than anything else, those factors will help motivate, bring out the best in your athletes on the floor.”
Kupets was introduced at a press conference on Tuesday, also attended by Yoculan, UGA president Jere Morehead, board of regents member Don Leeburn, and Chris Carter, Kupets’ husband. Head football coach Kirby Smart was also among those who was seen in the room.
“It is our goal to return our program to an elite level,” athletics director Greg McGarity said as he introduced Kupets. “And it will take all pulling in the same direction.”
Kupets was a student assistant at UGA during the 2009-10 season, the first under Clark. And since last year she has been working as a coach at Oconee Gymnastics, along with her husband.
McGarity compared the hiring with when Yoculan was hired in 1983, when Yoculan was a local club gymnastics coach.
“Today in many ways history is repeating itself,” McGarity said.