ATHENS — It was business as usual on the UGA campus Saturday, and there was a lot of business being conducted. There was a baseball doubleheader against Toledo going on at Foley Field, a gymnastics meet against Boise State at Stegeman Coliseum and women’s tennis match against Tennessee at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
Oh, and this, too: There was a regime change taking place inside the Stegeman Coliseum Training Facility.
That’s where Mark Fox has coached the Bulldogs’ men’s basketball team for the last nine seasons. He will be no longer.
In a meeting with athletic director Greg McGarity late Saturday morning, Fox was informed he was being terminated and the Bulldogs would be looking for a new coach immediately. The school already has retained the services of a consulting firm to assist with the search.
Meanwhile, Fox remained at his office all day Saturday as he met with his staff and planned to inform the team of his fate at a meeting in their locker room later in the day. McGarity entered the basketball offices at 3:55 p.m. and left about 15 minutes later to attend the gymnastics meet. He did so without much in the way of commentary.
“I can’t talk about the stuff,” he said when asked whether the Bulldogs would accept the NIT invite that already has been sent their way. The school will have a news conference Sunday.
Out on Tulipwood Lane, in the Crystal Hills subdivision on the southernmost edge of Clarke County, Cindy Fox and their two children, Liv, 15, and Parker, 17, began dealing with the realities of being in the family of a Division I coach. They’d been summoned to a “family meeting” by Fox on Saturday morning and told that nobody was sure what was going to happen next but that this chapter was over.
“We’re OK,” said Cindy, a longtime college athletics administrator before her husband landed the job here. “We feel good about what we did here. We feel like we’re leaving the program better than we found it. They said they want to win championships here and we weren’t able to deliver. We respect that.”
The Foxes will be fine, indeed. Mark Fox will get another job, and likely quickly, if he wants. As the FBI continues to peel back the layers on the sordid underworld of college basketball, Fox has stood out like an all-white tuxedo for being squeaky clean and his teams remaining competitive besides. As that investigation continues, there are expected to be a lot job openings at established programs that will be looking to improve their image. After his nine-year run at Georgia, many ADs surely will think Fox might look good in their school’s colors.
But the Bulldogs are ready to go in another direction. They stuck with Fox probably longer than most programs might have. McGarity had stated clearly and consistently that the expectation for Georgia men’s basketball was to compete for championships, to qualify for the NCAA Tournament and win some games therein “once in a while.”
Fox didn’t do that enough. His teams made the tournament just twice in nine years and never advanced. And the Bulldogs missed it the last two years despite having two first-team All-SEC players last year and The Associated Press’ Player of the Year in Yante Maten this season. The chips were down on Fox and he simply couldn’t get it done.
That is not to say Fox didn’t do good work at Georgia. He produced four seasons of 20 or more wins — something only Hugh Durham had accomplished and then in 17 years — and did it three years in a row at one point. Every player that stayed, graduated, and never once did an NCAA enforcement officer darken the door of the basketball offices Fox bunkered down in Saturday afternoon.
Meanwhile, it’s not just Fox’s life that’s impacted. He has a staff of three full-time assistants, three graduate assistants, a director of operations, an operations coordinator and other support staff. Most of them now will be looking for work, and that’s a cold reality.
“I’m doing well,” said assistant Jonas Hayes as he entered the coaches’ offices about 3 p.m., “as well as could be expected.”
Life will go on. Georgia will hire a new coach and probably pretty quickly based on the events of Saturday. Former Indiana coach Tom Crean already has expressed interest, former Ohio State Thad Matta is thought to be interested and other young up-and-comers such as College of Charleston’s Earl Grant and Iowa State’s Steve Prohm, along with Harvard’s Tommy Amaker, are out there to be had.
But they all come with the risks of the unknown. If nothing else, Georgia knew Fox would field a competitive team and wouldn’t put the school in jeopardy for the sake of winning a few more games.
“We’re at peace,” said Cindy Fox, with the family’s miniature collie, Hoops, bounding about under her feet on the front porch of their stately brick colonial home. “We feel a lot of satisfaction about what we did here. There’s a peace in knowing we did it the right way.”
Cindy Fox wasn’t sure what was next. Their son will head to Clemson next year as an invited walk-on and wants to coach like his father. They would prefer not to displace their daughter who attends Oconee County High School, but you never know.
“We love it here,” Cindy said. “We’ve made so many good friends, and we’ve really enjoyed everything about the University of Georgia.”