Olivia Dunne Jay Clark LSU

Jay Clark and LSU: A Shaky Start or History Repeating Itself?

No. 6 LSU has the clear advantage but is coming off a disappointing fifth-place finish at the SEC championship. Will this galvanize the Tigers or will their tough luck continue? 

This was the big question heading into the first session of round two of this year’s Raleigh regional. LSU, a mainstay at the top of both the SEC and national rankings in recent years, struggled mightily at its recent conference championship after an uneven performance in the regular season. 

As the final totals flashed across the scoreboard at Reynolds Coliseum, they confirmed that for the third time in as many meetings Missouri had finished ahead of its fellow SEC Tigers, sixth-ranked LSU. Far more shocking was that the 20th ranked Iowa Hawkeyes had also outscored LSU, securing the second and final berth to the regional final and a chance to advance to nationals.  

This was a familiar scenario for LSU’s head coach Jay Clark, who recently finished out his second season at the helm of the storied LSU program. Just over a decade ago, then first-year Georgia head coach Clark saw his team unexpectedly fall short in its nationals bid, losing out on a tie-breaker to Oregon State and failing to advance a team to nationals for the first time in program history.  

There’s certainly an argument to be made that Georgia’s athletic department never gave Clark a fair shake. A learning curve is to be expected for even the most seasoned of coaches, and Georgia’s gymnastics program during Clark’s tenure looked downright robust compared to its current state. That said, Power Five athletic directors are only willing to indulge a new coach’s growing pains for so long: When an established program goes from reigning national champion to missing nationals in the course of a single season, that coach had better show some major growth fast

Georgia did improve the following two seasons, qualifying a full team to nationals and scraping up a handful of individual titles and accolades, but that improvement was not enough. Clark resigned from his position at the end of the 2012 season and subsequently accepted an assistant coaching position at LSU under the SEC’s Dean of Coaches, D-D Breaux. 

With all of that in mind plus the benefit of hindsight, how do Clark’s first two seasons as sole head coach at LSU compare to his time at Georgia? 

Jay Clark


  • 2020 to present: Head Coach, LSU
  • 2019 to 2020: Co-Head Coach, LSU
  • 2012 to 2019: Associate Head Coach, LSU
  • 2009 to 2012: Head Coach, Georgia
  • 2005 to 2009 Associate Head Coach, Georgia
  • 1998 to 2009: Recruiting Coordinator, Georgia 
  • 1990 to 1996; 1998 to 2004: Assistant Coach, Georgia 
  • 1992 to 2005: founder, owner and head coach of Classic City Gymnastics
  • B.S. in exercise science, Georgia 


  • named ninth-best recruiter in college athletics by ESPN the Magazine in 2011
  • USAG Region 8 Hall of Fame
  • Region Assistant Coach of the Year (2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2006)
  • National Assistant Coach of the Year (2017, 2016, 2014, 2006)

Georgia Gymnastics Prior to Clark

  • Program founded in 1973
  • Coached by Suzanne Yoculan from 1983 to 2009 with a career win-loss-tie record of 831-117-7 and a 0.8738 winning percentage 
  • Under Yoculan, the Gym Dogs made 26 consecutive appearances in the NCAA championships, won 10 program NCAA championship titles (including five consecutive wins from 2005 to 2009) and earned 16 SEC titles 
  • At the conclusion of the 2009 season, Georgia ranked fourth on vault and first overall and on bars, beam and floor; senior Courtney Kupets won her third NCAA all-around title and secured a career-best 39.900 in the championship meet

Georgia Gymnastics Under Clark


  • Doug McAvinn, Assistant Coach: From 1985 to 2012, McAvinn was the primary vault coach for the Gym Dogs and in 1998 was the first recipient of the NCAA gymnastics National Assistant Coach of the Year award.
  • Julie Ballard Clark, Assistant Coach: Georgia’s 1995 SEC Freshman of the Year, two-time All-American, wife of Jay Clark, served as volunteer coach from 2001 to 2007 before becoming the team’s director of operations in 2008.

2010 Recap

  • Had average home attendance of 9,819 per meet and maximum attendance of 10,224 against Stanford
  • Finished third at SECs; three individual event winners: Courtney McCool won floor, Kat Ding and Hilary Mauro tied on bars, and Grace Taylor and Marcia Newby finished second on beam and bars, respectively
  • Team did not qualify to NCAA championships for the first time in 27 years; senior McCool qualified as an individual and earned second place on beam and second-team All-America honors on floor

2010 Rankings and Record

All AroundVaultBarsBeamFloor

2011 Recap 

  • Average home attendance of 9,262 and a maximum attendance of 9,930
  • Finished third at the SEC championship for the second year in a row; Cassidy McComb won the all-around title and was named named Co-Southeast Region Gymnast of the Year 
  • Advanced to the NCAA championships for the 27th time, finishing tied for fourth in the semifinals
  • First-team All-America honors: Ding (vault, bars), McComb (floor, all-around), Lindsay Cheek (vault)
  • Second-team All-America honors: McComb (beam), Noel Couch (all-around, vault, floor)

2011 Rankings and Record

All AroundVaultBarsBeamFloor

2012 Recap

  • Average home attendance of 8,768 and a maximum attendance of 10,224
  • Third consecutive third place finish at the SEC championship
  • Finished fifth in the NCAA championship semifinals after counting two falls on beam; Ding won her second-consecutive NCAA bars title and finished first on floor
  • First-team All-America honors: Ding (all-around, vault, bars, floor), Lindsay Cheek (vault) Chelsea Davis (bars)
  • Second-team All-America honors: Davis (vault, floor), Gina Nuccio (bars), Noel Couch (vault), Shayla Worley (beam), Laura Moffatt (beam), Sarah Persinger (floor)

2012 Rankings and Record

All AroundVaultBarsBeamFloor

LSU Gymnastics Prior to Clark 

  • Program founded in 1970
  • Coached by D-D Breaux from 1978 to 2020 with a career record 800-410-8 and a 0.660 winning percentage
  • First of seven Super Six appearances in 2008; finished a program high second in 2016 and 2017
  • Appeared in the inaugural four-team team final in 2019, again finishing second
  • SEC regular season champion from 2015 to 2018
  • SEC champion from 2017 to 2019

LSU Gymnastics Under Clark


  • Ashleigh Gnat, assistant coach (2020 to present): The LSU alumna (2017) is a 17-time All-American and 2017 NCAA champion on floor; served as a graduate assistant under Breaux and Clark and served as an assistant coach at Penn State for two years specializing in beam and floor.
  • Garrett Griffeth, assistant coach (2021 to present): Specializing in vault, Griffeth spent two years as an assistant coach at Utah and Arkansas, and four seasons at Texas Woman’s; previously served as a graduate assistant and administrative associate to Clark during his time at Georgia.
  • Courtney McCool Griffeth, assistant coach (2021 to present): A 2004 Olympic silver medalist and Georgia alumna (2011) under Clark; alongside husband Garrett, McCool Griffeth previously served as a volunteer coach and choreographer at Utah, Arkansas and Texas Woman’s. 
  • Ashleigh Clare-Kearney Thigpen, volunteer coach: The LSU alumna (2010) and two-time NCAA champion concluded her 11-year stint as a volunteer coach after the 2021 season but continues to serve as the university’s associate athletics director for diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Bob Moore, assistant coach: The venerated vault coach retired at the end of the 2021 season after coaching collegiate gymnastics for over 30 years, including 20 seasons with the Tigers. 

2021 Recap

  • Clark shared Region 1 Coach of the Year with Alabama’s Dana Duckworth
  • Finished second at the SEC championship
  • Top seed at the Salt Lake City regional, edging out Kentucky by 0.150 to advance to the NCAA championships
  • Finished third at the NCAA championships in semifinal two; Haleigh Bryant won the individual vault title
  • First-team All-America honors: Bryant (vault, beam, all-around) Kiya Johnson (vault)
  • Second-team All-America honors: Johnson (all-around), Alyonna Shchennikova (bars), Livvy Dunne (bars)

2021 Rankings and Record

All AroundVaultBarsBeamFloor

2022 Recap

  • A record 7,500 season tickets sold; average home attendance of 11,691 with a max attendance of 13,569 
  • Finished fifth at the SEC championship
  • Second seed at the Raleigh regional; finished third in semifinal one of round two, the team’s lowest finish since 2011
  • Kiya Johnson qualified to the NCAA championships as an individual on vault; finished sixth overall and earned first-team All-America honors 

2022 Rankings and Record

All AroundVaultBarsBeamFloor

This year’s postseason results are a heavy—but not devastating—blow to Clark’s job security. Ultimately, money talks, and a reliably sold-out PMAC plus one of the most profitable college athletes currently competing speak volumes and affords Clark a wider margin of error than most coaches in his shoes.

Even so, 2023 is potentially make-or-break for Clark. LSU will be losing seven routines from its 2022 lineups, not to mention much-needed depth and experience from the six upperclassmen who are moving on. The incoming freshman class is incredibly strong, featuring a quartet of four-star recruits—Annie Beard, Bryce Wilson, Lilly Lippeatt and Ashley Cowan—and the 2023 recruiting class is even stronger. As of fall 2020, Clark’s contract was good through June of 2025, meaning he theoretically has three seasons to convert all that talent and potential to tangible results (and the sooner the better).    

In a subjective sport like gymnastics, it’s virtually impossible to ascribe the title “greatest of all time” to any single person. However, when it comes to assistant coaches, Jay Clark is doubtlessly in the conversation. He is widely regarded within and beyond the sport as an expert marketer and a master at recruiting, and he deserves ample credit for his contributions in growing the sport to its current cachet. What Clark has yet to prove is his ability to lead a program to postseason glory without the safety net of an all-time great supporting him.

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Article by Claire Billman
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