ATHENS — There seems to have been a misunderstanding. I wrote something the other day that a number of people interpreted as meaning I believe Mark Fox should retain his job beyond this season. I replied to several commenters and emailers who seem to have reached that conclusion, but I wasn’t able to respond to them all. So, let me set the record straight in this space.
Georgia’s men’s basketball coach will be fighting to keep his job during the next 10 days, and rightly so.
The point I was making four days ago was that, as information continues to leak out from the FBI’s probe into college basketball corruption, Georgia fans should be glad that Fox is their coach. The reason for that is it seems clear that their team won’t get ensnared in this scandal, which promises to engulf numerous teams before it’s over. Fox is adamant and outspoken about not breaking any NCAA rules to get players. We saw that yet again after the Bulldogs’ win over LSU on Saturday when he vehemently restated that philosophy.
“I’m disgusted with how people have treated our game,” Fox ranted. “It’s absolutely disgusting.”
I agree with that part. The practice of shoe companies and third-party entities getting involved in the compensation and recruitment of elite prospects has sullied the college game, along with the concept of the “one-and-done.” It simply violates every principle for which college athletics is supposed to stand. Hypocritical or not, it’s an amateur sport.
That said, the bottom-line charge for any Division I coach is to win and, ultimately, to reach the NCAA Tournament. And that’s something Fox simply hasn’t done enough.
Entering the team’s home game Wednesday night against Texas A&M, Fox has an overall record of 161-130 (.553) at Georgia and 77-77 in SEC play (.500). So he has been a .500 coach.
More importantly, he has led the Bulldogs to just two NCAA Tournaments in nine seasons and failed to advance either time. His UGA teams haven’t even gone deep when they played in the NIT. So, postseasons have been decidedly bland under his leadership.
And here they are again. As a very explosive Aggies team (18-11, 7-9 SEC) comes into town Wednesday (8:30 p.m., SEC Network), the Bulldogs (16-12, 7-9) are in desperation mode. They pretty much have to win this one and the season finale at Tennessee on Saturday to have a chance to play their way into the NCAA Tournament via the SEC Tournament in St. Louis next week.
They might do it. And if they do, more power to them. I believe Fox would deserve to keep his job at least another year to try to do it again next year.
Until recently, Fox and his staff were in the midst of bringing in one of the best recruiting classes in the country. But 5-star point guard Ashton Hagans de-committed Monday. From what I’m hearing, it was because he can no longer be certain he’ll play for Fox and, by association, assistant coach Jonas Hayes. So that hangs in the balance.
But that comes with the territory. I understand and wouldn’t question it if Fox is fired in the event of Georgia coming up short again. And I think that’s what would happen. In fact, I’m fairly certain that wheels already have been set in motion as far as exploring the Bulldogs’ options if they have to part ways. Nobody at UGA would admit that, but that’s why search firms were created.
To whom might Georgia turn? Who knows? I don’t even want to go there right now. Let’s just say the ongoing scandal could impact the pool of candidates.
What one can be sure of is that Fox and his staff are coaching their butts off trying to make all that talk moot. The Bulldogs just need to find a way to win the players they have, and they have some pretty good ones.
And that’s the sad side of this whole discussion. Nobody wants to win more than those players who suit up in Georgia’s colors every day. Wednesday is senior night, and among those to be honored in pregame ceremonies are Juwan Parker and Yante Maten. Maten, a 6-foot-8 forward, is currently the leading scorer in the SEC at 19.5 points per game and just became Georgia’s second-leading scorer of all time. Parker is a fifth-year senior who has overcome not one but two torn Achilles tendon injuries to compete for the Bulldogs.
Both of them made it clearly to me Tuesday, in no uncertain terms, that their ultimate goal at UGA is and has always been to play in the NCAA Tournament.
“That’s the goal we saddle up with at the beginning of every season,” Parker said. “That’s literally what we’re playing for, trying to make that tournament.”
Each of them has done it just once, and not since March of 2015.
No matter how you look at it, that’s a poor return on Georgia’s investment in college basketball, which is considerable. Fox is and has been well-compensated as Bulldogs coach. Stegeman Coliseum has been refurbished and renovated to the tune of millions of dollars. The place is nice. UGA can’t be beat as a school when it comes to education and college life.
So, no, Fox not cheating isn’t a reason to keep him. Every coach in America is contractually obligated and bound to not break NCAA rules, even guys who work for schools named Duke and Kentucky. Say what you want about those rules, but they are the ones by which every team agrees to play. They are the same in football.
Making the NCAA Tournament regularly, and then making some noise in it every now and then, that is reason to keep him. Time to make some noise.