ATHENS — Georgia carved out what could be considered a pretty nice win, 86-82, in basketball Tuesday night. But coach Mark Fox’s postgame press conference had the air of a wake rather than a victorious celebration.
In fact, the first words out of his mouth were, “it’s been a tough week.”
Everybody around UGA knows Fox and football coach Mark Richt are extremely close away from their respective competitive arenas. Fox left nothing to doubt in that regard.
“We don’t have expertise in football; we don’t know all the facts on the inside, so I’m not going to be judgmental either way,” Fox said, referring to UGA’s decision to fire its 15-year football coach on Sunday. “But what I know is that college athletics, everybody around it, is littered with fraudulent and counterfeit people, and we all know it. And Mark Richt was neither one of those. And our leadership has demanded the ‘Georgia way,’ and Coach Richt cemented it in all of us.
“Our players, really, to be honest with you, I had to stop practice at the end last night to say, ‘it’s like we had a death in the family.’ Everyone’s in mourning. It’s the cycle of coaching, and that’s why it’s been a tough week.”
Fox said that Richt befriended him when Fox first came on interview seven years ago. And the two of them have only grown closer over the years, sharing an occasional breakfast at Waffle House and sending each other’s staffs food when they sensed a need for a pick-me-up. Fox painted his body and dressed up to support the football team as a member of the “Spike” squad each of the last two years. Richt has tried to attend every basketball game he can get to.
“It’s because we believe in the Georgia Way,” Fox said. “If he asks, whoever the new coach is, I will help him however I can. Because we can’t lose the Georgia Way. It’s been a tough week and we wish Coach Richt nothing but the best in his future endeavors.”
Fox’s eyes were tearing up and his voice strained while he talked. Obviously he was taken aback that Richt was let go after winning 74 percent of his games — and average of 9.6 a year, over 15 seasons. Fox has won 54.5 percent of his games over seven seasons (109-91). He overcame back-t0-back 15-17 seasons when his job status was in question.
“His office was the first place I went when I came here,” fox said of Richt. “I went to see him before I signed my contract, because I knew that I could not have any success here without his supports. And he was phenomenal to me, and to Georgia. How we hit it off? I don’t know, we just believed a lot of the same things. We could laugh together and make fun of each other and be normal. That friendship was something I cherished. …
“Coach Richt made me a better man.
Georgia had to fight to beat its visitors from Michigan. Yante Maten gave the Bulldogs an 84-82 lead with two free throws with 36.1 seconds remaining. Oakland’s Max Hooper missed a 3-pointer from the right corner on the ensuing possession. The rebound bounced off the hands of a Georgia and an Oakland player simultaneously. Initially the ball was awarded to the Golden Grizzlies, but a video review was inconclusive so the Bulldogs were awarded possession by jump-ball possession arrow.
J.J. Frazier made a pair of foul shots to with 15.2 seconds to go for the final margin. The sophomore guard led the Bulldogs with 23 points, Maten had 21 and 9 rebounds and Mann added 15. Georgia made 15 of its 22 free throws (68.2 percent) but were 6-for-6 down the stretch.
“Tonight will hopefully allow us to build some confidence to close games,” Fox said of the Bulldogs, who improve to 3-2. “We were certainly a lot better today.”