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.

27 comments:

  1. I always enjoy reading your thoughts on UGA. I would also like to add, that as a former GEF and Ten-O Club booster, it was not only the team's performance that suffered under Jay. Suzanne, in addition to being a master motivator, never took the supporters of her program for granted. She knew that winning titles was not enough to attract, build, and retain a fan base in a town where football is king. Suzanne was constantly promoting her team in new ways and making sure her gymnasts made themselves accessible to their fans. At GEF and Ten-O events, you could be damn sure her gymnasts were not huddled in a corner talking among themselves but rather were speaking with the boosters and looking them in the eye. This was important to Suzanne and it was also important to the boosters who supported the program.
    Not only have events for boosters and fans have declined greatly since Jay took over, but the inside access that fans were once afforded if now gone. It is as if Jay was scared to let those who were supporting the program see what was really going on inside. Although Suzanne’s candor got her in trouble at times, it is also what endeared her to the fans. As a financial supporter of the program, she allowed you to see the interworking of the program, both good and bad. To be blunt, she knew who to suck up to and how to do it.
    Jay is certainly a nice guy and a solid technical coach, but he is much more comfortable with his team than he is with boosters and fans. Unfortunately, at a SEC powerhouse like UGA, those people are a program’s life line. Jay’s biggest marketing effort was the Gymdogs i-phone app. which was rarely updated and featured nothing that could not be found on the team’s website. I stopped attending the annual GEF “Meet the Team” events and the year-end banquet because it just became too painful to watch Jay stand around awkwardly, looking like he wanted to be anywhere else. Although I certainly agree the expectations at UGA are off the charts and perhaps unrealistic, it is tough to watch every single facet of the program decline. We understand that teams have off-years, shit happens, and it would have been nearly impossible to replicate Yoculan’s results in three years. What is unacceptable is those mediocre results combined with a decline in every other aspect of the program that made Georgia great.

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  2. Well said. Both the article and the first comment.

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  3. I don't know why but I always envisioned when Sarah stepped down (many, many years in the future, roll tide), that Dana would take over and Bryan would leave for Ohio State (Fagan will have left for greener pastures by then).

    That being said, there is a good deal bad blood between Georgia and Bama, i don't think either assistant would like the idea of working for such a hated rival after suffering through the UGA Dynasty of a couple years back.

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  4. Honey let me just tell you that Mark is the "real coach" at Arkansas.

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  5. Mark may be the coach but Rene is now the face of the program in all of the interviews. Most head coaches aren't the real technical coaches. Val isn't. Suzanne wasn't.

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  6. UF's Adrian Burde.... get some Romanian work ethic in there!!!

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  7. There are huge political forces in NCAA Gym that will make any AD think long-&-hard about picking a male HC over a female one...

    Face it we have a women's sport that is judged, 95% of the judges are female, and then there are the other numbers.

    Only one man has ever Coached a program to a NCAA title and the last title was 17 years ago... With Clark gone only two men Marsden and Kendig at Nebraska can claim to be "the face" of a Top-Ten program.

    We are seeing this stereotype develop where male coaches are valued as technicians, but you want a women doing the interviews and hoisting the trophies.

    If an AD believes rightly or wrongly that having a male HC might cost you a tenth or two on a team score why would he/she fight the current?

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  8. Alice-

    I can't agree with you enough about your comments regarding Jay. Suzanne used to be VERY accessible. I went to the very first GEF meet the team thing with Jay right before the Stanford meet. I was stunned at how awkward the whole thing was with Jay. He told embarrassing stories about the kids and his wife. I was uncomfortable. For a program like UGA, it just needs someone more outgoing and comfortable with public speaking and schmoozing.

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  9. I find the first comment kind of ridiculous. You are saying the only way to keep your job at Georgia is to kiss everyone around you's behind? They should have hired a publicist and not a coach.

    I also think it is a c op out. If Jay had 3 titles instead of 3 nothings he would still be coach and his lack of phony attitude would have mattered to NO ONE.

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    1. Coaches have to promote their teams. The UGA program was always a big deal in the community of Athens and that mattered to the school.

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    2. Boosters and season ticket holders also blunt some of the costs of one of the most expensive sports for a school to have. Those boosters pay a lot of money. They absolutely matter and it is why most head coaches have strong relationships with their alumni and boosters.

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  10. Suzanne used to say her primary Job was promoting, then recruiting, then coaching.

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  11. As someone who has spent a lot of time at Gym Dog booster events, I think the first commenter is right regarding he biggest problem with Jay. He absolutely did not give a shit about supporters of the program and made that clear.

    After the ass Bryan Raschilla made of himself in his interview for the Auburn spot, I highly doubt he will be able to convince the UGA athletic dept that he is right for that job.

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    1. Yes Bryan Raschilla did interview at Auburn, and I have no idea where you got you information but I have it on good authority that he was Suzanne's top choice since she was on the hiring panel

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  12. Very interested to know more re Bryan Raschilla interviewing for Auburn. How did he make an ass of himself?

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  13. Alice, how refreshing to hear your comments about Jay. I am a long-time Gym Dog fan and more recent GEF/10-0 Club member, and my interactions with Jay have been sarcastic at best. I had to wonder if his sarcasm also extended to the gymnasts, and I know for a fact few young women can handle that kind of attitude on a regular basis. Example: At the Meet the Team dinner, my husband told Jay that I would be traveling to the Bama meet. I truly expected something along the lines of "Thank you for supporting us." What I got instead was a snort and a "Boy, you're brave." He may be an excellent coach (I've always supported him), but his demeanor made me feel awkward and uncomfortable. I wish him well, but I truly hope his replacement can relate better to the fan base. And perhaps the gymnasts.

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  14. Jay is socially awkward. In Suzanne's article introducing him as the head coach, she referred to how she found him "peering in the windows". Kind of eepy-cre.

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  15. i heard that jay was fucking two georgia gymnasts and I heard he popped grace's cherry. If that does not destroy team chemistry, I don't know what the hell would.

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  16. I think the first comment is the most enlightening comment that I have seen yet on Jay's 'resignation.' The bottom line is that when you're in charge, you have to wear many hats. This includes coaching, motivating, promoting and making nice with the boosters and the top supporters of your program. Yes, if you win, your shortcomings are more likely to be overlooked, but considering that Jay's teams never beat Florida or Bama or Utah, finished 3rd each year at SECs, and failed to make the Super Six 3 years in a row, alienating the supporters of the program may have been the final nail in the coffin.

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  17. lol. The only sport the SEC cares about is football. That's it. There may be SEC "gymnastic powers" that be, but there are not SEC powers that give a hoot about gymnastics, care who the head coaches are, or probably even realized some SEC schools field gymnastics.

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  18. Why would coaches have to worry about getting bug $$? Gymnastics is never going to be football or basketball it will never bee a big money getter for schools. as long as you have a decent place to train.goergia's is state of the art and a place to compete your fin.

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  19. As a rule, coaches of non/lower-revenue sports (aka those other than football & basketball) have to "worry about" being NCAA compliant, playing community ambassador, and having good GPAs/graduation rates.

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  20. The SEC cares about gymnastics at schools like UGA and Alabama where they get tons of publicity, win titles, are on TV and are great for students to attend who are attending the school. They are great ambassadors for the universities. Suzanne and Sarah made/make salaries and bonuses that indicate that gymnastics was taken seriously at their school. Suzanne made $350,000 base salary and up to $500,000 with a top season where they were ranked #1, won SECs and won NCAAs.

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  21. That comment about SEC only caring about football is misinformed. SEC schools care about winning TITLES. It doesn't matter what fucking sport it is. The schools increase their rankings overall when they have any collegiate sport that wins conference and national titles. For instance, the track program at Arkansas is world famous for its accomplishments and, more importantly, for training athletes who reach the Olympic level. Do tons of people go to those meets? Yes. Is it NEARLY as big as their football program? Not even close. But if you think for one second that the AD at UArk doesn't value that track program, you're fucking insane. The same can be said for Nebraska's wrestling program. For UGA, they are famous in college athletics for their gymnastics program. What administration thinks about the success of your program is all that matters... and, of course, making sure that you thank the people that sponsor your program. I really appreciate the first comment, btw. Very insightful.

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  22. This is no different than being a CEO/COO in business. The CEO's two main roles are to bring in the money and hire the best talent. The COO makes sure work gets done. COOs rarely have the qualities needed to be a good CEO. Jay is a perfect example of an awesome COO and a crappy CEO.

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