I see no need to mince words here: Jay Clark’s two-year tenure as the head coach of the Gym Dogs began in disappointing fashion, has featured absolute disasters, and, in my opinion, needs to end as soon as this gymnastics season concludes. Because I am completely off the fence where Coach Clark is concerned, I think it is time to get started on the search for his replacement.
Naturally, I ruled out candidates, such as the Alabama Crimson Tide’s Sarah Patterson, who coach at successful rival schools and would have no incentive to bolt for Athens. Likewise, I eliminated such otherwise qualified contenders as the Oregon St. Beavers’ Tanya Chaplin, who is a Pac-10 lifer and is unlikely to undertake such a life-changing career move. Even with those prospects removed from the mix, however, I still was able to identify four strong possibilities to take over the program Suzanne Yoculan built. In alphabetical order, these are they:
- Current Post: Head Coach, Nebraska Cornhuskers (1993-present)
- Current Team Standing: No. 10 national ranking; No. 2 seed, Corvallis Regional
- Alma Mater: Kentucky (Class of 1979)
- Career Honors: Big 12 Coach of the Year (1997, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2007, 2009, 2010); Region Coach of the Year (twice); National Coach of the Year (1999, 2003)
- Why We Should Hire Him: In his long tenure in Lincoln, Coach Kendig has guided his teams to eleven conference championships (three in the Big Eight and eight in the Big 12) and nine Super Six appearances. He graduated from Kentucky, so he has at least some ties to the SEC.
- Why We Shouldn’t Hire Him: For one thing, he’s getting on up there in age, and his ties to the SEC are tenuous when compared to his Nebraska connections; Coach Kendig served as an assistant for the Cornhuskers as far back as 1981. Only five Nebraska gymnastics squads have won an NCAA regional competition, so there is some question whether he has what it takes to put Georgia back among the elite.
- Current Post: Head Coach, Oklahoma Sooners (2006-present)
- Current Team Standing: No. 5 national ranking; No. 1 seed, Norman Regional
- Alma Mater: Iowa State (Class of 1992)
- Career Honors: Big 12 Coach of the Year (2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010); Region Coach of the Year (2004, 2006, 2010); National Coach of the Year (2005, 2010)
- Why We Should Hire Her: Despite having no prior ties to the Southeast, Coach Kindler has shown a willingness to move around, as she hails from Minnesota, went to high school in Connecticut, and left her alma mater, Iowa State, after fifteen years on the Cyclones’ coaching staff (including five as head coach) to take over in Norman. Despite having graduated from college within the last 20 years and having been a college head coach for just a decade, Coach Kindler is the first coach in NCAA history to have taken two different programs (Iowa State in 2006 and Oklahoma in 2010) to the Super Six.
- Why We Shouldn’t Hire Her: Honestly, I’m having trouble coming up with a good reason. Coach Kindler is my first choice.
- Current Post: Head Coach, Denver Pioneers (1999-present)
- Current Team Standing: No. 19 national ranking; No. 4 seed, Denver Regional
- Alma Mater: Florida (Class of 1993)
- Career Honors: Region Coach of the Year (1999, 2007)
- Why We Should Hire Her: She is young, and, as skigator93 noted, she competed for the Gators from 1989 to 1992 before earning a degree from Florida in 1993. Her time in Gainesville overlapped partly with Greg McGarity’s days as an assistant athletic director there and entirely with Coach Yoculan’s service in the Classic City, so Coach Kutcher-Rinehart knows what is expected of the Georgia gymnastics program, and she may even know McGarity personally. She has overcome the difficulties of restoring a program at a small private university whose previous glory came in the form of a 1983 Division II national championship.
- Why We Shouldn’t Hire Her: The worst I can say about Coach Kutcher-Rinehart is that she isn’t Coach Kindler. Frankly, she would be my second choice if Coach Kindler declined the job, and, after Florida hired Will Muschamp, wouldn’t it be sweet to put a former Gator in charge of a sport in which Georgia historically has been dominant but in which the Sunshine State Saurians lately have made huge strides?
- Current Post: Head Coach, Penn State Nittany Lions (first year)
- Current Team Standing: No. 11 national ranking; No. 2 seed, Tuscaloosa Regional
- Alma Mater: Kentucky (Class of 1985)
- Career Honors: SEC Coach of the Year (2003, 2008); Region Coach of the Year (2003, 2008)
- Why We Should Hire Him: He has considerable ties to the SEC: Coach Thompson graduated from Kentucky, served as an assistant at LSU, and guided the Auburn gymnastics program for nine years. During his tenure on the Plains, Coach Thompson led the Tigers to eight straight NCAA regional appearances, and he has the Nittany Lionesses there in his first season in Happy Valley. Coach Yoculan was a Penn State graduate, so there’s something to be said for poaching coaches from State College, particularly ones who twice captured SEC coach of the year honors during the era in which Coach Yoculan was coaching in the SEC.
- Why We Shouldn’t Hire Him: I’d like someone younger, and, with just one season under his belt in the Big Ten (where he previously served as an assistant at Illinois and Wisconsin), he may not want to move again so soon. While Coach Thompson’s ties to the Tigers do not bother me---Joel Eaves, Vince Dooley, and Erk Russell all had strong connections to Auburn, after all---the fact that his only win against Georgia in more than a decade at Auburn came during the Jay Clark era does. In the last four seasons, Coach Thompson has guided two different schools to three No. 2 regional seeds, but No. 1 seeds are what Georgia expects. Coach Thompson clearly is a good coach, but it remains to be seen if he is a great one, which is why I have him third on my list.
If the Gym Dogs win the national championship this year, of course, I will take it all back and issue a public apology to Coach Clark. Likewise, I will be watching the regional competitions closely to see which of the foregoing teams advance. Naturally, plenty of other qualified candidates may be out there, and I invite you to offer alternative suggestions in the comments below, but, right now, I’d have to say my preference would be Coach Kindler. Whichever coach is at the helm of the Georgia program in 2012, however, Greg McGarity’s decision is as easy as ABC: anybody but Clark.