ST. LOUIS – Mark Fox wore a sullen expression, as he has for most of the past month. Greg McGarity stood in the back of the room, occasionally looking down at his phone. The Georgia basketball season finally ended for all purposes. Now the inevitable seems likely to come down.
A decision on Fox’s status as Georgia coach may come down as soon as Saturday. It was not confirmed immediately after Friday’s loss to Kentucky in the SEC quarterfinals. But the signs continue to point in the direction of a change.
McGarity demurred when asked by several reporters, saying it “was not the right moment.” In past instances, when a coach was being retained, McGarity has moved to quash the speculation. He has not done so this time.
Fox may even already know his fate. Once a prolific tweeter, Fox hasn’t tweeted since Feb. 10, prior to the home loss to Auburn. That game finished a run in which Georgia lost eight of 10 games, perhaps sealing the decision by UGA administrators.
Georgia tried to climb out of it, pulling off wins over Florida and Tennessee, and then winning the first two games here at the SEC Tournament, including an upset of Missouri. But it all may not be enough, as Georgia (18-15) will miss the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time in Fox’s nine years.
“My entire focus, as I said before the tournament, was on trying to get these kids some wins,” Fox said after Friday’s game. “And trying to make sure that they have the most incredible season they could have. We felt like we could come in the tournament and win it. And we knew that fatigue would eventually be something we would have to overcome. And we’ve been 100 percent focused on that. And solely that. So I haven’t really thought much about the rest of it.”
Fox also ordered his players not to say anything about his status. Last year, then-senior J.J. Frazier had been free to lobby publicly for Fox. This year the players were under a gag order.
“Nobody knows, he just told us not to comment on it,” freshman forward Nicolas Claxton said.
So it was left, as it usually is, to fellow coaches to lobby for Fox. Specifically, John Calipari.
As Kentucky’s coach, Calipari has now won 11 in a row over Fox. After Friday’s game, Calipari put Fox’s status in the context of other factors, especially the ongoing FBI investigation into recruiting corruption.
“Let’s just hope that Georgia looks at this and looks at a bigger picture and says, ‘You know what, it’s in good hands,’ ” Calipari said. “There’s a lot of stuff going on out there, stuff that’s not going on at Georgia. They’re in good hands. That has to mean something.”
Calipari said he told Fox before the game that he would be happy if Georgia won and kept going.
“I’d love for you to beat us and get two more and go play in that tournament and squelch all the crap,” Calipari said he told Fox. “It’s nuts in our profession. Guys like a Mark Fox, they could consider and say, ‘Well, he’s not doing a good enough job for us.’ I just beg to differ.”
Fox has now guided Georgia to five straight winning seasons, and six overall. The program is undoubtedly in better shape than he inherited it nine years ago.
But the biggest measuring stick is NCAA Tournament appearances, and there have been only two. It will remain that way, Friday’s loss sealing that.
“The goal was always to make the NCAA Tournament,” sophomore guard Tyree Crump said, when asked how he would evaluate the season. “But we had that one bad spurt when we went on a losing streak, and that kind of knocked us down. But we also had some good games that we won. But we weren’t successful overall.”