Championships, not gossip, are Yoculan’s legacy

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.

52 comments Add your comment

Clay

April 16th, 2009
9:43 pm

I am a Georgia grad and a huge fan of the Gym Dogs. She may be the greatest college gymnastics coach in history. That does not chnage the fact that HER BOYFRIEND IS MARRIED! What would we call her if she didn’t have a stack of hardware? You can admire her work without liking her as a person.

Clay

April 16th, 2009
9:44 pm

Yes, that was a typo.

Billy E.

April 16th, 2009
10:58 pm

Suzanne and Jim are the best!! Put a statue of both of them in front of Stegeman Coliseum!! The work that both of the two of them have done for the gymnastics program and UGA is very commendable. Look in the mirror before you cast stones!!

Fact Based

April 16th, 2009
11:14 pm

She’s a gymnastic coach, her personal life is none of our business. She hasn’t asked for a vote……

'ol sport

April 16th, 2009
11:26 pm

I appreciate your column, Bill, but what stands out to me is the fact that she is unparalleled in her profession. She is the Bear Bryant of gymnastics, the Mike Tyson of boxing and the John Wooden(sp) of basketball. To do this year after year is amazing. These young ladies love her and want to perform for her. I only hope Jay Clark will have learned enough to carry on in the same fashion. Tonight could be make for a really big day!

Ozzfest

April 17th, 2009
12:23 am

I am a UGA alumni and I would spit on that skank if I had the chance. She is TRASH…and I am quite liberal when it comes to sex. Let me repeat…TRASH.

Bryan G.

April 17th, 2009
2:22 am

Bill, while you raise some great points, the fact remains that her relationship with Leebern is probably part of the reason Dooley was shoved out at UGA. Vince didn’t like the relatinoship and Leebern threw his weight (read: money) around and won the power struggle.

People are certainly free to make whatever sexual choices they wish, but a coach should also be a role model for their team. I don’t mean that they have to be a saint, but I don’t think it’s asking too much to tell someone not to share their bed in Oconee County with someone who has a wife in Columbus.

Not to mention that her “boyfriend” created NCAA sanctions for the Gym Dogs a few years back when he let the team take his private jet!!! And her “boyfriend” also had the UGA wine scandal.

However, none of this has been punished and no one was held to task for anything except Coach Dooley. That’s because Don Leebern understands the golden rule…whoever has the gold, makes the rules. He continues to give money to Michael Adams and Sonny Perdue and they continue to give him power.

Cuz

April 17th, 2009
2:27 am

Oh give it a break. My personal life is nobodys business but mine. Her personal life is her own and I frankly don’t care. If Donald Leeburn’s wife does not divorce him and take him to the bank, what does that say about her. The knife cuts both ways. Better to leave Youclan’s personal life out of it and recognize the woman as the greatest college gymnastic coach of all time.

Bill, best to leave the torrid details to People and whatever those other rag-a-zines are that litter the aisles at the grocery checkouts.

Go Gym Dawgs!!!!!!!!!!!

Bubba

April 17th, 2009
6:14 am

The Mike Tyson of boxing? That would make her about the 20th best coach in history.

OldSchool

April 17th, 2009
6:29 am

I guess Mr. King voted for Clinton too.

I am young, but have the old-fashioned belief that those who interact with students should be required to maintain the highest of moral standards.

She fails that test. And I don’t care how many trophies she brings home.

Excellence at athletics does not excuse corrupt character. I can only assume the writer of this blog would still have Mike Vick calling plays at the Georgia Dome.

AltamahaDawg

April 17th, 2009
7:14 am

Old school, while I do not think anyone would disagree in principal……if you fired every college professor, who does not live up to the “highest of moral standards”, well…who coaches the gymastic team isn’t really going to be an issue. There’s not going to be one.

I think you should consider character. What somebody does in thier personal lives is a possible “predictor” of how they might act professionally. In this case however, she has a record of several decades to KNOW how she acts professionally.

Mike Vick broke the law. He participated in something that is linked to organized crime and cruelty to animals. Apple/oranges to letting somebody live in your house whose wife refuses to divorce him after years of seperation. Don’t ya think?

Now what are we going to do with all these parents that aren’t living up to the highest of moral standards?

AltamahaDawg

April 17th, 2009
7:38 am

And in all fainess to Mr. King, Bill Clinton was only an alleged adulterer when he voted for him.

GaPnt

April 17th, 2009
7:41 am

I can’t believe she doesn’t have a morality clause in her contract. If this was a football coach he would have been fired years ago. But win at any cost is the logo of Georgia gymnastics.

South Georgia Dawg

April 17th, 2009
7:50 am

I’m a recent UGA grad, and I couldn’t give a flip what the above posters are saying about Susan. She’s a grown woman who knows better and has to live with herself everyday.

That being said, I can speak from experience that the majority of the gym dawgs are…how you say…”loose”. Ask Moreno and a couple of the other football players about making the rounds with multiple members of the squad.

UGA'er

April 17th, 2009
8:00 am

CREEPY! That is about all you can say about an older lady having sleepovers for her gymnasts while the dirty old man lurks in the shadows. Yuck! Imagine if this happened at Tennessee.

JDM

April 17th, 2009
8:05 am

You failed to mention that she had a gteat deal to do with Tubby’s wife moving him to Ky.

mike addington

April 17th, 2009
8:18 am

wow, you guys really seem to have the low down. I was delighted to hear the news about how Dooley lost out on that deal. I knew someone was behind it but I thought it was that sorry ### Joe Frank Harris. My niece, who lives in Athens, had a wonderful future in gymnastics–was born for it actually–but after a few sessions with Yoculan at her youth team, my sister ended up having to drive her to Roswell for training. She hated Yoculan.

John

April 17th, 2009
8:18 am

So she’s a good coach? So what? When is that more important than who a person really is? That’s what’s wrong with all of us. More interested in what someone can do instead of who they are. Society continues to rot….

bill

April 17th, 2009
8:21 am

Suzanne Yoculan’s 26 year career should be judged by the program she built from nothing, the championships that followed, and, most importantly, by the products of those championship teams – the women who went on to become successful in life. If there was ever a program that could be held as a model for all collegiate sports it is the gymnastics program at UGA…thanks to Suzanne. Some of the ignorant comments made above are shameful and, most assuredly, came from individuals who have never stepped foot on a college campus.
Good luck tonight, GymDogs…bring home a 10th national championship!

UGA'er

April 17th, 2009
8:33 am

The championships they won are silly. Hardly any of the top schools in the nation even field a gymnastics team.And most of these girls couldn’t even make the high school or college cheerleading team. Plus they tend to be a little chunky. I’s kind of like finishing first in a 4 team race. Hardly anyone cares or notices.

mike addington

April 17th, 2009
8:42 am

UGA’er, you don’t know much about gymnastics, huh? It’s a heck of a tough sport, with arguably the best athletes in the world. One does have to give the broad a “way to go” for her accomplishments.

Name (required)

April 17th, 2009
8:44 am

It’s the only sport we have where we have a chance at winning a national championship. Give her a raise!

Cap'n

April 17th, 2009
8:47 am

At least she’s not sleeping with students like half the professors there. I’d like to spend some quality “gymnastics” time with her myself.

mike addington

April 17th, 2009
8:53 am

You da’ man, Cap’n

HootieSnitch

April 17th, 2009
9:02 am

I agree with UGAer. It’s not a real sport at the vast majority of schools. And to the guy that said these were “arguably” the best athletes in the world? Are you joking? Where do you do your standup gig? I’d like to see you at the comedy club.

CurlyHeadedDevil

April 17th, 2009
9:19 am

Instead of letting her retire, why can’t she switch over to coach the football team and let Mark become the new gymnastics coach? Being perfect in football is a helluva lot more important than gymnastics.

Georgia Grad

April 17th, 2009
9:27 am

Georgia has a fundamentalist president, who behaves like a middle-ages Pope, and a sanctimonious football coach, yet this woman lives with a married thug from the Board of Regents who sends Youclan and some of her girls on a chartered jet to NY City, in clear violation of NCAA rules and beats up his neighbors. If Youclan were a male, or if her boyfriend was not Adams’ hoe, Youclan would have gone the way of Donnan, Harrick, and Felton, without the golden parachute.

PS

April 17th, 2009
9:33 am

Dooley’s trouble with Adams began when he refused to install Youclan as Assistant AD.

GW

April 17th, 2009
9:52 am

Bill King’s column was pretty much right on the money. She deserves all the credit for a great gymnastics program and he pointed out the personal issues without trashing her too badly. Everybody knows if a divorced football coach was living with his legally married secretary it would be a huge nationwide media scandal for 2 reasons. He’s a man and the sport is football. Leebern’s power and money makes them untouchable plus it is not illegal as far as I know. If your neighbor was doing it you’d be calling them trash though.

AJC

April 17th, 2009
9:57 am

To those who mistakenly think gymnasts aren’t “real” athletes, I’d remind you that a few years ago some of Yoculan’s Gym Dogs went up against some of Mark Richt’s football Dawgs in various athletic events and the girls beat the boys in just about everything that didn’t involve lifting weights. The football players had nothing but admiration for the female athletes.

AltamahaDawg

April 17th, 2009
9:57 am

You’ve got to love the folks who “project” such high standards onto somebody else. How convenient!

She’s not our friend, she’s not our family. She is the coach of a team that we follow. That is our relationship to her, and hardly puts us in position to judge. Well, we can, but it’s worth about same as the time it took to make up an opinion on it.

It’s the people that actually are affected that should form a worthwhile opinion. I assume any parents with a young lady interested in that program would ask the the coach sitting in thier living room, directly to her face, to explain any questions they might have about her lifestyle. And I would take thier judgement about what is best for thier own daughters, over somebody quoting rumours and inuindos to form an opinion about what they think is best for somebody else’s daughter……..every time.

And somehow we only read about her atheletes in the paper when they are doing what they are supposed to be doing, not stupid things like others.

AJC

April 17th, 2009
9:58 am

By the way, “AJC” is Bill King. A computer glitch required me to use a generic sign-in this morning.

Tom

April 17th, 2009
10:11 am

Bronze statue? Wouldn’t a black velvet painting be more appropo? If only all the athletes she’d “handled” at UGA had been gymnasts.

AJC

April 17th, 2009
11:07 am

Kudos to Gym Dog Courtney Kupets, who won her third NCAA all-around championship on Thursday in Lincoln. Kupets, a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic team, has never lost in the all-around at the NCAA Championship. She didn’t compete last year because of injury.
–Bill King

DawgGirl32

April 17th, 2009
11:48 am

“The championships they won are silly. Hardly any of the top schools in the nation even field a gymnastics team.And most of these girls couldn’t even make the high school or college cheerleading team. Plus they tend to be a little chunky. I’s kind of like finishing first in a 4 team race. Hardly anyone cares or notices.”

This post has to win for most ignorant comment of the day.

Couldn’t make the high school cheerleading team??? Yeah cus they’re too busy competing in the Olympics. I would wager a large amount of money that any one of these girls would win in a fight against the majority of guys on these blogs.

Bryan G.

April 17th, 2009
11:50 am

I think some of you miss the point.

1. I agree that she is a great, great coach. Please don’t get me wrong.

2. HOWEVER, as a gymnastics coach at a public institution of higher learning, she has to be held to a higher moral standard than some janitor.

You certainly have the right to do whatever you want with your sex life, but at some point you choose a career that has to call into scrutiny your personal life.

Coaching at UGA should be one of those careers that requires both coaching skill and personal integrity. Coach Yoculan’s affair with Don Leebern shows a lack of integrity.

Great coach, yes; great ambassador for my college? No.

OutragedDawg

April 17th, 2009
12:53 pm

Let’s not forget that she had former members of the gymnastics team serving drinks at Leeburn’s 60th birthday party. A party that featured strippers….

Is THAT the kind of leadership we want a coach to provide? Compare with Richt, who seems to genuinely care about getting his players straightened out and on the right path in life.

I am a huge Georgia supporter, and I don’t usually care about people’s personal lives, but I think there’s one golden rule: What you do is your business AS LONG AS you do it off campus, and keep your students out of it.

Go Dawgs!

AltamahaDawg

April 17th, 2009
1:45 pm

Bryan, what if a major university hired a gay man/woman coach? same scrutiny?

Cuz

April 17th, 2009
1:58 pm

Bryan as a former janitor, I am offended by your comments. Our motto is to keep floors, bathrooms and ourselves clean. Just because we take out the trash does not make us trash.

Glad I got that off my chest.

Billy

April 17th, 2009
2:00 pm

GO DawgGirl32!! Those gymdawgs are tough. Suzanne is tough too. I’ve seen her jogging in the heat of a summer day!!

Bryan G.

April 17th, 2009
2:15 pm

AltamahaDawg:

Same scrutiny if the gay coach is living with someone who is married. I don’t have a problem that she’s shacking up with a man. I have a problem that she’s shacking up with a MARRIED man.

Bryan G.

April 17th, 2009
2:17 pm

P.S. – a married man who is, in many ways, her boss since he’s on the Board of Regents.

UGADawg83

April 17th, 2009
3:16 pm

Well Suzanne will be gone after the NCAAs this week-end. Taking her place will be Jay Clark who along with his wife Julie are already fine representatives of the Gymnastics team, the Athletic Department, the University and the state. The excellence will continue on the floor and there will be coaches that all of us can admire.

Ali

April 17th, 2009
6:46 pm

I honestly cannot believe the comments I am reading here. First of all, the person who wrote something about the Gymdogs being “loose” has no idea what s/he is talking about, is wrong, and should be ashamed of him/herself for spreading a rumor like that. Second of all, Suzanne and Leeburn are happy together. They love each other. They consider themselves and their children a family. For all intents and purposes they ARE a family. It’s not like their is any uncertainty in Leeburn’s mind, Suzanne’s mind, or Leeburn’s wife’s mind about who is a family among them and who isn’t. I don’t know why Leeburn and his wife don’t get divorced, and I don’t want to know. But, people, are you so bitter and self-righteous that you would prefer Suzanne and Leeburn to abandon their LOVE and HAPPINESS, their FAMILY, for the sake of societal rules?? It speaks to me, honestly, of jealously. Are you as happy with your spouse as Suzanne is with Leeburn? I can hear people saying, “No, but at least I’m legally married.” Personally, if I had to choose, I’d choose love any day. Lastly, I think Suzanne is a remarkable role model for the girls on her team; she will likely remain one of the most intelligent, successful, devoted, dynamic people the girls will have met for years to come. What an amazing experience for those girls to work with her — which, by the way, is exactly what they all say.

Bill King

April 17th, 2009
9:32 pm

CONGRATULATIONS to Yoculan and the Gym Dogs on a FIFTH CONSECUTIVE and overall 10th NCAA championship!

bbdawg

April 17th, 2009
11:25 pm

Anyone who cares about UGA should read “Behind the Hedges” by Rich Whitt. A graduate of UK and a Pulitzer Prize winner, Rich had no “dawg” in the fight. He details the “sorry mess” that has been been the leadership at UGA under Adams. Lebern was responsible for bringing Adams to UGA and has continued to pull the strings from his position on the Board of Regents.

Cuz

April 18th, 2009
10:19 am

A big HOW BOUT DEM DAWGS!!! to Coach Youclan and the Gymdawgs. Way to go team. Bulldawg Nation is proud. GO DAWGS!!!!!!

Cuz

April 18th, 2009
10:22 am

Bill, when are they breaking ground on the Youclan Arena? I wonder if they will let the B-ball team play there?

shane#1

April 19th, 2009
2:16 pm

I took My time before posting because I have mixed feelings about Coach Youclan. I respect her as a coach but I am glad she retired. To those who say that her personal life is her business, not while she works for me. As a citizen and a taxpayer I have a perfect right to demand a stansard of behavior at the University that belongs to me and the other taxpayers in this great state. UGA is NOT the personal fiefdom of Dr Adams or Mrs Youclan’s lover, no matter how much money the latter puts in UGA’s coffers. Adam’s should have been gone after it came to light that a Buckhead condo was bought with state funds for use by University big wigs, not to mention the Costa Rica deal. That is my money, and yours! Many on these blogs wanted Michael Lemon’s head on a pole after he beat up a fellow student. What about a trustee that assaults his neighbor, then uses his money and political connections to avoid the consequences of his actions? Ms Youclan did the right thing, now it’s time for her boyfriend and Dr Adams to do the same.

CurlyHeadedDevil

April 21st, 2009
9:27 pm

Obviously, Yoculan is a great gymnastics coach, perhaps the best ever, but in her position she lives in a fishbowl and Georgia taxpayers deserve better behavior. I am a relatively recent resident of the city in which her lover’s wife lives and she maintains her dignity despite the indignity of a husband who openly lives with an unmarried woman in the public eye. After watching the king of “white trash”, Bill Clinton, expose his gutter behavior toward women and having acclamation from idiots in the U. S. and around the world, Yoculan’s personal life may not seem so bad. BTW, I am neither a UGA grad nor fan.

Rob

December 22nd, 2009
4:09 pm

Enter your comments here

Rob

December 22nd, 2009
4:15 pm

Yoculan is gone. Does this mean Sarah Patterson and Alabama will take hold of the College Gymnastics world. They (mired in losses and injuries) took the SEC crown from the Dawgs in 09 and then finished second to Georgia at nationals. I think talent is key, but coaching is what puts a team over the edge. The 2010 Bama squad is loaded at all spots and eyeing glory and are coached, by the (now that Yoculan’s retired) most successful coach in the business.

The the Gym Cold War over, can Patterson and Bama rule supreme?