Normally, a college coach getting ready to retire after a career that has seen her bring nine NCAA national championships (including the last four in a row), 21 regional championships and 16 SEC championships to her school would be beloved.
Not so UGA’s Suzanne Yoculan.
Despite her building the University of Georgia’s gymnastics program from an afterthought into a perennial national powerhouse that is second only to the football team in paid attendance, Yoculan remains controversial. And we’re not talking about her prickly relationship with other gymnastics coaches around the country because of her Spurrier-like outspoken nature. Georgia fans don’t mind a bit if folks in Alabama or Utah or Gainesville get ulcers at the mention of Suzanne Superior and her Gym Dogs.
No, it’s Yoculan’s messy personal life that has alienated many in the Bulldog Nation. Which is a shame, because she’s been one of UGA’s greatest athletic assets for more than a quarter century.
You may not like how Yoculan lives her life, but you have to admire and respect what she’s built.
Her program regularly packs Stegeman Coliseum, the gymnastic scholarships are all endowed, her athletes have the best grade point average of any UGA program, and only three team members in 26 years have failed to graduate.
She’s played a big role in not just building the UGA gymnastics program into the nation’s best, but in building the sport of college gymnastics, raising the level of competition in the SEC particularly. She’s a tireless promoter and saleswoman who built her program from the ground up, raising money and sending her gymnasts out into the community to do exhibitions at local schools to build a fan base. But there’s more to Yoculan the head coach than just drawing the spotlight to her team. She is still in the gym on a daily basis as a hands-on coach. Said one observer: “She still has the eye. She catches things in warm-ups and makes corrections.” She’s also a supreme motivator who knows how to get the best out of her athletes. And, with the able help of Jay Clark, associate head coach, ace recruiter and Yoculan’s successor, she’s built an elite program that reloads each year with the cream of recruits, including Olympic team members.
Is it tacky for her to call her live-in boyfriend her fiancé when he has a wife in another town? Undoubtedly.
But should that diminish her stature as one of the best coaches ever to set foot on the campus in Athens? No way.
So here’s to Suzanne Yoculan. With Courtney Kupets and Tiffany Tolnay leading the way, the No. 1-ranked Gym Dogs won the opening session of the NCAA Championships on Thursday to advance to the Super Six. Whether they add a fifth consecutive national title and a 10th overall to Yoculan’s record tonight in Lincoln, Neb., or not, she’s brought unequalled athletic success and honor to UGA and established a program that should continue to thrive after her departure.
She may have feet of clay in her personal life, but she deserves to have a bronze statue standing outside Stegeman Coliseum.