Suzanne Yoculan sat wired with a microphone in front of an ESPN camera for a collective of 10 hours.
The former Gym Dogs coach and 10-time national champion was one of about 20 sources from the world of Georgia athletics that director Joie Jacoby and company interviewed for her 53-minute SEC Storied documentary Sarah & Suzanne, which explores the two-decade long rivalry between Yoculan and Alabama’s Sarah Patterson.
“They’re so different just in the way that they speak and everything,” Jacoby said. “From right off the bat after meeting … it couldn’t be more different in the way that they come off. But they couldn’t be more alike in their competitiveness and their drive to succeed. There are similarities there, but I think I tried to draw these differences in the way that they come off to other people.”
Yoculan, who retired after the 2009 season, and Patterson, who is still at the helm for the Crimson Tide, boast a combined 16 national titles and 24 Southeastern Conference titles.
But Yoculan said their competitiveness with each other bled into over areas, not just in the number of championship rings the other had.
They went back and forth about the size of their media guides, their attendance numbers, the flashiness of their gymnasts’ leotards and warmups, their own wardrobe and even added an extra meet against each other to help draw bigger crowds. Both coaches got into the nitty gritty of promotion and marketing, trying to get their programs on the map.
“Sarah Patterson was doing the same thing at the same time,” said Yoculan, who took over the Gym Dogs in 1983. “We just approached it very differently, both of us, than what a lot of other coaches do in other sports.”
Yoculan said she thinks the landscape of collegiate athletics and the responsibilities of a coach are different now than when Georgia’s rivalry with Alabama was at its peak.
“It’s really sad to me that coaches in today’s world think that it’s not their job to do the promotions and marketing themselves,” she said. “They are almost spoiled in a lot of ways by the direction that collegiate athletics have gone by having so many promotions staff and having people do things for them … instead of doing it themselves. I believe success comes from relationships and that includes relationships with your fans.
“A lot of coaches just think that their job is to coach and just stay in the gym, on the field, on the court. Football and basketball and baseball, you get the media attention whether you work at it or not, whether you win or lose, you get the attention. But other sports have to go about it a different way.”
Georgia gymnastics coach Danna Durante, who was a gymnast at Arizona State in the early 1990s when Yoculan and Patterson’s rivalry began heating up, credited the two coaches for elevating collegiate gymnastics and women’s sports to a higher profile.
“I think (a rivalry like that) demands respect,” she said. “It demands recognition in any sport. It shows that women are athletes and they can be just as competitive, just as athletic, just as amazing as those male athletes. … It’s raised the recognition of what women can do, which I’m a huge proponent of.”
Jacoby, an Emmy Award winner, said a huge appeal for her signing on as director was ESPN choosing a to tell a story about women from a conference that is dominated by male sports.
“You rarely get the opportunity in mainstream television to tell stories that are just all about really strong women in general,” she said. “It’s a great story, it’s a great rivalry and it happens to be about women.”
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SARAH & SUZANNE
What: ESPN documentary in the SEC Storied series. The 53-minute film explores the heated rivalry between Georgia’s Suzanne Yoculan and Alabama’s Sarah Patterson.
When: Airs at 7 p.m. today on ESPNU