Saturday, May 5, 2012
Thoughts on Georgia
Jay Clark 'resigned' yesterday, as did his wife Julie, and it only underscores the culture of the SEC and an interesting dynamic that played out at Georgia. The SEC is all about one thing: winning. Georgia won under the direction of Suzanne Yoculan and Jay Clark was a huge part of that success. As the dust settles and speculation over whom should take over the program reaches high gear, there are several factors we should consider about the last four years in Athens:
1. Myth: Suzanne left the program when it was going to go downhill due to the graduation of Kupets and Tolnay.
The loss of Kupets and Tolnay was huge, but Jay Clark actually won the major recruiting battle of the of 2010 freshman class when he signed the two most sought after recruits in the country: Shayla Worley and Christa Tanella. Unfortunately, they didn't work out for him. It is curious to see so many say that Suzanne left the program high and dry, as her retirement was known ahead of team and Jay got to recruit the very gymnasts he recruited. It always helps to have a cute recruiter who bonds with the girls and Jay served that position at UGA the way Chris Waller serves it for UCLA. Jay aged and perhaps so did some of his magic, but he did recruit the very girls he would coach. Unfortunately, the coaching staff did not have the same chemistry to get the girls on track the same way Suzanne, Jay and Doug would have. It is difficult to think Worley and Tanella would be the duds they are, as Suzanne is a master of psychology. She knows how to motivate, manipulate and get girls to achieve. If it took whoring Shayla out to the local Athens press, Suzanne would've done it. If it took putting the girls in the infamous 'fat group' who does extra cardio, she would've done it (does that still exist?)
2. The importance of the three coaches
Suzanne, Jay and Doug were a perfect triad. If the girls didn't bond with Suzanne, they usually bonded with Jay. There are those like Brittany Smith who were closest to Doug, who is the most technical of the coaches. Doug McGavin isn't going anywhere. It would be shocking and foolish if the AD got rid of him when the new coaching team comes in, and frankly, most NCAA coaches will kill to have Doug as a vault coach. Suzanne was the motivator and in charge of the most mental of apparatus: beam, the girls would work on bar technique with Jay the master recruiter, and vault with the master technician, Doug. Jay was an excellent assistant coach. He does not have that dynamic personality that is seen is most top team coaches. There is always a twinge of sadness to Jay, but it worked better as the Associate Head Coach who needed the bitchy domineering crazy woman to get out of the way so he could get his due. In some ways, when the word was the Jay did all the work, it worked better.
Unfortunately, Jay didn't have that rallying personality. He also continued to do most of the recruiting, still coach bars and be the head coach. He never seemed as happy as he had been previously, but things went downhill quickly. It is not shocking that some of the girls who were used to things that they were, had issues with the coaches or had difficulty adjusting when there was tension after two seniors got engaged and appeared to not be in the best of shape for their senior year. Those girls were coming off three winning seasons and it is quite possible that complacency was making its place known. While the engagement issue likely got blown out of proportion, those girls didn't seem to have the same fight as they had before.
3. Georgia has steadily improved
Georgia has improved somewhat over Jay in terms of their regular season record, but they finished exactly where they did a year ago despite a vastly different regular season. After missing NCAAs in his first year, it was somewhat obvious that Jay needed to get the team to the Super Six this year and back to the top three next year. Georgia lucked out with the draw at NCAAs, but they were unable to deliver at the big moment. Shit happens, but it doesn't happen three years in a row in the SEC. Georgia may have had NCAA title droughts for four or five years on end, but they were always in the top three and winning conference titles. That hasn't happened.
One of the most startling turn arounds of the program has been Jay's proclamation that Georgia is a 9.850 team and that's all the needed to be. I've never heard of a single winning team that had that B-/C+ attitude about life. I can't remember a winning team being satisfied with a 9.850. Georgia used to count the 9.900s at each home meet. It was under the guise of raising money for breast cancer, but it was also to get the girls scoring around nine or ten 9.900 performances a meet, which is what is needed to win the NCAA Championships. Georgia put itself in a situation to underachieve. By this point, some of the girls weren't capable of more, but freshmen used to go after the 9.900s and be told they needed to get them. Persinger was capable of becoming a 9.900 on beam, which Davis actually did accomplish on bars. There just weren't enough. Kat Ding and Gina Nuccio were the only girls resembling Gym Dogs of past greatness, though Gina even competed on floor with scotch tape, glue and a prayer each week. That wasn't going to work.
4. Suzanne Should Come Back
The notion around town is that Suzanne will or should come back. Frankly, I think this is risky for Suzanne and for Georgia. In terms of Georgia, this is a quick fix. They are still going to have the problem of replacing Suzanne when the time comes for her to retire again (should she come back) and they'd likely have to replace Doug McGavin as well by that point. It would be beneficial for them to rebuild the program.
For Suzanne, I have no doubt that she could turn the team around, but she'd have to figure out a new support staff. Jay was important to Suzanne's success. He recruited and coached bars. Suzanne would need to replace Jay and figure out a relationship with a new head coach. Perhaps the only person capable of filling that role would be Bryan Raschilla of Alabama, who is not going to succeed Sarah Patterson and it is a well known fact. He is also a good coach and the girls seem to like him. There are always whispers that the SEC powers would never make him a head coach. They prefer young, power female in heels types.
Given Suzanne's desire to succeed, I could see her pounding the recruiting pavement herself, but does she really want to come back and start over after going out on top? She is currently in her mid 50s, but she does have enormous amounts of energy. Her desire to make sure Sarah Patterson doesn't surpass her record could make her capable of doing anything: returning, hiring Bryan, skipping botox to coach bars if she had to.
5. If Not Suzanne...?
If not Suzanne, the best candidate to take over the program would likely be KJ Kindler. Unfortunately for Georgia, she has just built a program at Oklahoma and may not want to uproot her life. It is a plus that she works with her husband, as they could always take over at Georgia together. Ironically, KJ's team missed the Super Six after a third fantastic season in a row. What she has done at Oklahoma is that Georgia wants their head coach to accomplish. She is building, climbing, earning respect and on her way to being a premiere coach. Interestingly, Hayley Sanders, Jay's last recruit, is a total KJ-type gymnast.
Rene Cook's name has been thrown around. Mark and Rene are separated and she became more of a presence at Arkansas. One has to wonder if Rene would really be any sort of improvement, but she is coming into her own, has a real presence at Arkansas and is very much out from under Mark's shadow.
Bryan Raschilla could very well fill the role, but it may be unlikely for 'Big Red' to take over. It wouldn't necessarily be a bad choice, but my money is on a female head coach.
6. What's Next For Jay
Before Jay became the Associate Head Coach, he had one foot out the door to take over Ohio State. That actually likely would've been a better match. Taking over Georgia was a dream for Jay. What he found was reality. He had shoes to fill and things he couldn't live up to. By starting over, Jay could've redone a program. Frankly, he would've been perfect to take over Penn State. At this point, Jay may be devastated by his ouster at UGA, but he shouldn't stay down for long. By rebuilding and avoiding the mess that is the SEC, he may very well be a successful coach who makes NCAAs, has fun, enjoys the climb and avoids the crap of almost unrealistic expectations. He is a talented coach and he will find his niche.