Gym Dogs still making transition to Life After Yoculan

Following a legend such as Suzanne Yoculan, who won 10 national championships, has proven difficult Georgia gymnastics coach Jay Clark. (AJC photo)

Following a legend such as Suzanne Yoculan, who won 10 national championships, has proven difficult Georgia gymnastics coach Jay Clark. (AJC photo)

Suzanne Yoculan reflects on her early years as Georgia’s gymnastics coach and laughs. She is best known today for her 10 national championships at UGA but she was known for a lot of other things when she started out in the mid-1980s.

“I used to throw shoes across the room,” Yoculan says incredulously. “I would take my shoe off and wing it across the room at a girl because I was mad at her for something. I’m not kidding. I learned a lot those first few years.”

Yoculan shared that experience to illustrate how much there is for young coaches to learn. Yoculan points out that her successor at Georgia, Jay Clark, is also a young coach and is having to learn on the job. For that reason, she said, fans need to be patient with him.

“He hasn’t taken his shoe off and thrown it across the room,” Yoculan quipped, “so already he’s doing better than I did.”

Clark

Clark

Clark, Yoculan’s lead assistant for 17 years, Clark took over as head coach three years ago. In that span, the Bulldogs had the gall not only to fail to win a national championship – they’d won five in a row before Yoculan stepped away – but they didn’t qualify for the NCAA Championships at all that first year.

But this year the Gym Dogs are back in the hunt. Georgia (17-5) is ranked No. 5 in the nation and is one of 12 teams that will be competing for the national title at the Gwinnett Arena in Duluth.

The Bulldogs are seeded fifth and will compete in the second semifinal session with six other teams Friday night at 6. Georgia, No. 1 Florida, No. 4 Alabama, No. 8 Arkansas, No. 9 Oregon State and No. 12 Ohio will compete for three of the six spots in Saturday’s national championship meet (4 p.m.). No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 6 Nebraska, No. 7 Utah, No. 10 Stanford and No. 11 LSU will compete in the first session at noon. The individual competition will be held on Sunday.

“We feel really good about our situation,” said Clark, whose third squad won the Auburn regional to advance to the championship meet. “We’re not going to out-difficulty anybody; we know that. We’re not going to do some of the crazy big skills you’ll see some of the other teams do. But we’re going to concentrate on being a super clean team. Hit every handstand; stick all our landings. Every year that’s what decides championships.”

Florida and UCLA are favored. Georgia has competed with seven of the other 11 teams in the field went 6-5 against them. The losses came against Florida, Alabama and Utah.

Georgia is led by senior Kat Ding, the reigning NCAA uneven bars champion and who is also ranked 15th in vault. Chelsea Davis (9th) and Gina Nuccio (16th) are nationally-ranked on bars, Shayla Worley is fourth on balance beam and 21st in all-around.

Yoculan, who led Georgia to the championship rounds in 23 of her 26 seasons, likes what she sees in the Gym Dogs.

“I feel confident that Georgia will compete for the national title,” said Yoculan, who will be part of ESPN’s television broadcast team. “There’s no doubt in my mind. I think there’s a strong shot Georgia will be in the Top 3, and that would be an unbelievable accomplishment for a new coach in his third season.”

It has taken a while for Yoculan to feel like she could speak freely about Georgia. Even though she announced her retirement two years before Clark was tabbed her successor, there was a period of awkwardness for both parties. That was particularly evident in Year One as Georgia stumbled through the transition and failed to advance out of regionals.

“Neither one of us were prepared for what hit,” Yoculan said. “He wasn’t prepared for a team that underperformed and I wasn’t prepared to not be part of the team. Georgia was struggling and people were stopping me and saying things to me and asking me what was wrong with the gymnastics team. It was awkward for me and it was hard for Jay.”

Though she remained an Athens resident, Yoculan steered clear of the practice gymnasium that was built in her name. She entered the building just once in 2010, and Clark resisted the urge to pick up the phone and call for advice when problems began to mount.

“When you’re with somebody that long, you think you know everything they would do in every circumstance,” Clark said. “That’s the mistake I made. And I also made the mistake of not being as in tune to the difficulties she was going through in the transition. I didn’t reach out as much as I probably should have.”

They’ve learned their lessons. Clark said he and Yoculan talk “almost daily” and Yoculan swings by the gym whenever she can. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Georgia is back in the championships a second straight year.

“We’re comfortable in our skin now,” Clark said.

40 comments Add your comment

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Buckeye

April 19th, 2012
2:53 pm

Finally,and only after g-day, do the Gym Dogs get their Chip Tower’s due.

ATL Fan

April 19th, 2012
2:58 pm

Gym Dogs have a great history of winning. Thanks for the article.

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RHall55

April 19th, 2012
3:00 pm

More pressing question?? When is Coach Will Friend gonna start recruiting OL??? Only (3) LOI’s last year and only (1) commitment so far this year!!! C’mon Man!!

RHall55

April 19th, 2012
3:00 pm

More pressing question?? When is Coach Will Friend gonna start recruiting OL??? Only (3) LOI’s last year and only (1) commitment so far this year!!! C’mon Man!!

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JB

April 19th, 2012
3:57 pm

Yoculan was hot. Be a lot of pressure keeping that gal happy.

go dawgs

April 19th, 2012
4:28 pm

i always respect the job you do mr. towers. you do it great. but in all honesty… you write for the AJC, why in the world are you writing about a (not so) struggling gymnastics coach… unless they win another national championship i dont think this is AJC news worthy… keep up the good work though chip!

jrmdvm1

April 19th, 2012
4:41 pm

go dawgs, the Gym Dogs are also DGD’s. This is the AJC blog for UGA sports. The Gym Dogs definitely belong here.

Jeff

April 19th, 2012
4:51 pm

Totally disagree with go dawgs. As I’ve told Seth Emerson, the Gym Dawgs frequently outdraw the men’s hoops team. My wife and kids love to go to at least 1 meet a year. It’s a great show they put on and we are, or at least were, the dynasty that everyone looks up to.

chiefdawg

April 19th, 2012
5:27 pm

anybody notice that they are not allowing comments on Tech player who has been suspended? Wonder why?

I noticed

April 19th, 2012
7:25 pm

“No comment” say the GT family. Nice. Good if you get away with it.
The entire GT staff and adm. keep it all hush hush.
Go Dogs
PS: we all know that GT is on TRIPLE SECRET YELLOW BELLY NCAA CHEATING PROBATION FOR THE SECOND TIME IN 12 years! THAT is what we know.

Online dog training | Great Dogsonline

April 19th, 2012
7:35 pm

[...] webmaster@technorati.com wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerpt [...]

[...] Gym Dogs still making transition to Life After YoculanAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)But this year the Gym Dogs are back in the hunt. Georgia (17-5) is ranked No. 5 in the nation and is one of 12 teams that will be competing for the national title at the Gwinnett Arena in Duluth. The Bulldogs are seeded fifth and will compete in the …Gym Dogs embark on familiar groundNCAA.comall 2 news articles » [...]

bitter dop_e heads

April 19th, 2012
9:44 pm

bitter dop_e heads

April 19th, 2012
9:45 pm

Fools that attack tech —-attack only the bammer trailer T—toothless folk

Marv

April 19th, 2012
11:48 pm

Look at her, the essence of victory. What a great AD she would have made and she would not have put

up with all of Richt and Bobo’s excuses.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

The Tide is rolling and nothing can stop it

April 20th, 2012
8:22 am

Can’t they just get Todd Grantham to coach them? I sure UGA fans could make excuses for him in that sport as well.

Fort Worth Dawg

April 20th, 2012
10:11 am

UGA Equestrian 2012 – look it up.

KOOL

April 20th, 2012
12:29 pm

LOL… L-A-Y… Life After Yoculan… that’s rich…

Where's the 10 Football National Titles

April 20th, 2012
4:38 pm

Mark Richt should start throwing a few shoes!!! LOL.

Sal

April 20th, 2012
5:21 pm

Go Dogs! Glad to see an article on the Gym Dogs…after all, they are in the hunt for a national title. I hope there is a lot of support for the Dogs tonight at The Gwinnett Center…they are (or should be) the hometown favorites. Tickets are cheap: go out and support your team!

ATLDawg

April 20th, 2012
8:57 pm

Clark has to be fired – Gym dogs didn’t even make it to the finals, AGAIN. He will never get them back to where they were, and belong. But thanks for the coverage. Used to love going to see them beat everybody. Not anymore.

Dandy Dawg

April 21st, 2012
12:15 am

Looks like Clark still has some learning to do as a HC.

His comfort zone is clearly as an assistant. This is year 3 – and his program now – and has not made the finals after 5 strait NC’s by Yoculan.

Not time to run Clark out yet – however, these dawgs are clearly not performing in curnch time anymore.

Biff Pocoroba

April 21st, 2012
10:16 pm

Is Yoculan still living with the married guy on the board of regents who used to buy plane tickets and gifts for the team? She was lucky they didn’t ride motorcycles together so she could get away with it. Clark just needs to fine a rich sugar momma to take care of the team and he will be fine.

Pago Pago DAWG

April 22nd, 2012
12:32 am

Man, can UGA win any titles at all??!!! It seems we’re stuck at the middle of the SEC East, Except for the horses.

Douglas

April 22nd, 2012
4:26 am

Mark has not been able to lead the girls to have the mental toughness Yoculan had — they choke when the pressure gets to tough. In the past, if one gymnast fell, the other team responded strongly. Now when a person fails, it sends fear to the whole team.

SKB

April 22nd, 2012
6:46 pm

Lets face it, Its over for UGA gymnastics the second Yoculan retired.