Just as the Georgia football team has Kirby Smart, the Georgia gymnastics program now has one of its own as its head coach.
Courtney Kupets Carter, who competed for Georgia from 2006-2009, was named the program's eighth head coach on Tuesday. The move comes after former head coach Danna Durante was fired on April 24.
"I feel like it's a very special opportunity, and I am so thankful and grateful for this chance to show the passion that I had while I was a gymnast at Georgia, but now I get to have that passion as a head coach," Kupets Carter said at her introductory press conference on Tuesday. "I cannot wait to instill that into the current and future Gymdogs."
Kupets Carter made her mark at Georgia as one of the best collegiate gymnasts ever. In her freshman season in 2006, she won individual titles in bars, beam and all-around. Even though she missed the 2008 NCAA Championships with an injury, she still finished her career with nine individual national titles, a record that still stands.
While her resume is very impressive, the search for a new head coach didn't begin and end with Kupets Carter. Athletic director Greg McGarity said Georgia discussed the job with several other candidates.
"Basically you cut your list to a short list, and it kept getting shorter and shorter as we really focused on Courtney and her ability to deliver on a lot of the intangibles," McGarity said.
While she hasn't hired any assistants yet, Kupets Carter did announce one very notable addition to her staff. Suzanne Yoculan Leebern, who won 10 national championships as Georgia head coach from 1984-2009, will serve on Kupets Carter's staff as a volunteer coach.
"I am so thankful that she would come back and take the time and invest back in the program that she started," Kupets Carter said. "It's going to be a monumental year, not only for the program, but for the athletes who get to experience little bits of what I got to experience out of Suzanne."
While Yoculan Leebern is one of, if not the most successful gymnastics coaches of all time, Kupets Carter lies at the other end of the experience spectrum. She has never been a coach in college before, but she feels having her former coach by her side will help ease her transition into this new role.
"I think that's what so important right now is any question I have, she's right there," Kupets Carter said. "It's not like I have to seek her out, she's going to be in the gym when she wants to be. We'll figure that schedule out with her, but that resource is going to be big.
Although still fairly successful, Georgia's program has declined since Yoculan's retirement.
The program hasn't won a national title since Kupets Carter's senior season in 2009, Yoculan's last as head coach. Under Durante, the Bulldogs never finished higher than fifth at NCAA Super Six.
Kupets Carter cited trust amongst the members of the team as a critical factor in getting Georgia back to its previous success.
"If you're going up there and your teammates don't trust in you, how are you going to stay on that beam when you're the only one trusting in yourself?" Kupets Carter said. "I think that builds a lot when your team can rely on you in that way."
One of the biggest questions facing Kupets Carter early in her tenure is the fate of the three gymnasts dismissed from the team by Durante days before her firing. While she stopped short of officially welcoming the gymnasts back to the team, she did leave the door open for a possible return.
"We're going to have conversations, if possible," Kupets Carter said. "If they want to come back, that would be an option for them."
Now, Kupets Carter will try to elevate Georgia gymnastics to the success it had under Yoculan Leebern. Even though this is her first college head coaching job, she is confident she can emulate the success her former head coach and current volunteer coach achieved.
"Georgia gymnastics will win championships again," Kupets Carter said.