On April 13 of this year, the NCAA selected Courtney Kupets-Carter as the best NCAA gymnast of all time. Today, less than a month later, Greg McGarity introduced her as the new head coach of the Georgia Gym Dogs.
After almost two weeks of speculation and rumor-mongering that could almost rival a football coaching search (if it had more mainstream media coverage), our esteemed athletic director decided that the woman who will take Georgia back to the elite levels of college gymnastics is a coach who, until this very moment, had never been a coach before.
Yes, you read that right.
Courtney Kupets-Carter has, quite possibly, the most impressive competition resume of any collegiate gymnast ever, but until she was named the head coach of the most accomplished college program in history, she had not been a full-time coach anywhere at the college level. She has coached at the club level for Oconee Gymnastics and Cheer for one year, and she was a student assistant under Jay Clark in 2010. That’s it. That’s the resume. The rest of Kupets-Carter’s work history consists of broadcasting for the SEC Network and USA Gymnastics, and a stop as a performer at the La Reve show at the Wynn in Las Vegas. (Seriously.)
As a competitor, Kupets-Carter won 4 straight national championships on the 2006-2009 Gym Dogs squads, and she also won 9 individual national championships. To date, Kupets-Carter is the only NCAA gymnast to ever win the individual all-around and the individual national championship on all 4 events over her career. In addition, she competed for Team USA at the 2004 Olympics, where the team won the silver medal and she won an individual bronze medal on bars. She was also inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 2014.
But we didn’t hire Courtney Kupets-Carter to compete for the Gym Dogs. We hired her to coach them. So why would Greg McGarity take a huge risk on someone with virtually no coaching resume? The answer can be summed up in two words: Suzanne Yoculan. She is Kupets-Carter’s trump card. The new coach was able to not only get the UGA legend on her side, but she was able to persuade Coach Yoculan to officially come on board as a volunteer coach for the team. Ostensibly, this means that Suzanne will be taking the new head coach under her wing and “showing her the ropes,” so to speak, about how the college gig works. This means that Suzanne Yoculan will more or less be the “shadow head coach” for at least the 2018 season.
But you’ll excuse me if I’m not over the moon about this move. Don’t get me wrong... I would absolutely love to have Suzanne Yoculan’s stilettos stalking the mats again. But the gymnastics head coaching job at the University of Georgia is not where I want a hot new coaching prospect to receive her on-the-job training. If we wanted Suzanne Yoculan’s expertise in a coaching role, we should have hired Suzanne Yoculan to coach the team again. Bringing her on as a mentor/shadow coach just smacks of trouble down the road.
What happens if everything goes pear-shaped in year 1? How about year 2? Does Suzanne stay on as the “shadow coach” if Kupets-Carter starts doing one or two things Suzanne doesn’t like? Who has the real power in this situation?
And don’t forget... Courtney Kupets-Carter has no time to have a “learning curve.” Gym Dog fans are fed up with missing the Super Six and not even really competing for a title when we do get there. The Gym Dogs need to be competing for a title this coming season. Or, at the very latest, the next season. Kupets-Carter has to hit the ground running, doing a job she’s literally never done before. I understand that many fans and observers like how the situation “looks” by hiring a UGA star and bringing in Suzanne Yoculan to help her out... but our new coaching prodigy has a huge amount of pressure immediately on her shoulders, with no “grace period” to have growing pains.
Perhaps this is Greg McGarity trying to make the best of a bad situation by embracing “the good old days” of Gym Dog glory and trying to get the fans excited about seeing famous names they recognize from those days. From what I’ve heard, he couldn’t even get a nibble from the real “big names” in the coaching world (Kindler and Faehn, primarily), and maybe this was his next-best option. I don’t know.
What I do know, however, is that this is the biggest risk Greg McGarity has taken to date at UGA, in any sport or any situation. By bringing in Kupets-Carter, he has hired a head coach that, basically, has never been a coach before, and told her to start winning national championships. A decision could hardly be more high-risk than that. And I think the results that the Gym Dogs see over the next year or two will be a significant statement about Greg McGarity’s potential for remaining as AD for a longer period of time.
To use a football analogy, Greg McGarity has switched to the “Bear’s Boys” tactic in picking a head coach. Just like at Alabama in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, when only coaches who had played for the Bear could score a spot as the head man stalking the sidelines in Tuscaloosa, it seems like former Gym Dogs under Suzanne Yoculan were the ones under primary consideration here. But McGarity doesn’t have time to languish with a Ray Perkins or a Bill Curry before he finds a Gene Stallings. He needs Courtney Kupets-Carter to be Gene Stallings right now.
Will Courtney Kupets-Carter usher in a new era of greatness for Georgia Gymnastics? Or will she Gerry Faust her way into getting both herself and her athletic director fired? I have no idea, though I hope it’s the former. I sincerely hope that the Suzanne Yoculan mystique kicks in and Courtney Kupets-Carter wins another 10 national championships over the next 20 years. But based on the facts we have at hand, I don’t see that as any more likely than the alternative ending.
I’ll have more about the coaching change and the incoming 2017 signing class in the days ahead. Until then...