Suzanne Yoculan, a PSU alum who won 10 national titles at Georgia, said Thompson is a passionate coach with strong values.
“I have so much love and respect for Suzanne,” Brown said. “But from my experiences being around the program first-hand, and talking to the athletes who’ve competed at Penn State, I have to disagree. I think the overwhelming support I’ve received shows this is a real problem.”
Yoculan, 63, said it’s tricky to figure out when and how to push certain athletes. She said Rachelle Thompson was trying to find an appropriate balance.
“I read some of these things, and I think, ‘That’s not abuse. That’s coaching,'” Yoculan said.
Yoculan, who said she served as an official consultant to the Thompsons while they were at Auburn in 2010, said she is confident Rachelle Thompson had good intentions.
Yoculan said Thompson developed “sister programs” for gymnasts to work with mentors, put together holiday events for the the team and had one-on-one meetings with each athlete. She added Thompson also suggested athletes speak with doctors or trainers when they felt overwhelmed.
Yoculan also added support for many of Thompsons’ coaching tactics. She said it’s common for gymnastics coaches to push athletes, monitor their weight and become involved in their lives outside of the gym.
Once, Yoculan said, she went into a gymnasts’ apartment to kick out a boyfriend.
“Did she hate me at that moment? Yes,” Yoculan said. “But does she think of me as a second mother now and do I think of her kids as grandchildren? Absolutely.”
Yoculan said she thinks Thompson chose her words poorly at times and made some mistakes in handling personalities.
But the former Bulldogs coach also said she believes Thompson shouldn’t be stepping down.
“Rachelle really cares,” Yoculan said. “She went above and beyond for her athletes, and maybe she was a little bit too invested and too competitive in some situations. But I want my kids to have a coach like Rachelle. I would want my kids to have a coach that cares that much.”