ATHENS – For years, Mark Fox made clear he felt something was amiss in college basketball recruiting. When the FBI scandal broke before this season, he was proven right. There was some thought that it even could help save Fox’s job at Georgia.
It didn’t. On the same day that numerous teams tied up in the scandal will hear their name called in the NCAA Tournament, Fox was meeting with media members to discuss his firing after nine years at UGA.
“I have no reservations and no regrets about approaching this job in the way that we did,” Fox said. “I think that our game is certainly in need of some changes to the system. But while the system’s in place your hope is that everybody will operate within the rules. But they’re never going to. They’re never going to.
“So obviously in today’s climate, some people are celebrating, and I’m looking for work. But I’m just going to worry about what we do. And I’ll let everybody else judge the rest of it.”
That was the takeaway from Fox as he evaluated his tenure at Georgia: He realized the Bulldogs needed to win more. But he also had no regrets.
Fox spoke a day after Georgia dismissed him, with athletic director Greg McGarity saying he didn’t think the program was “reaching its full potential.” Georgia had six winning seasons under Fox, including the last five in a row, but only made two NCAA Tournament appearances, with no wins in the NCAA Tournament.
“We didn’t get that done,” Fox said of failing to make it to the tournament this year. “And that responsibility should fall on my shoulders, and I have no issues taking that.”
A few weeks earlier, McGarity did say he admired how Fox represented Georgia, essentially for doing things the right way. There was never any worry that Fox or Georgia would get caught up in the scandal.
Fox didn’t necessarily use his clean record as an excuse for not winning more games. He did say he believes a lot of things have to align for Georgia to win in basketball.
“I still believe it can be done. I’m not saying my tenure ended here at Georgia because everybody else is cheating,” Fox said. “I’m going to worry about what we did, and I’ll let you guys worry about everybody else. But it’s a challenging time certainly in college basketball right now.
“And the frustrating thing a little bit has been only a tiny bit of what occurs has been exposed. That’s the disheartening thing for the game of basketball.”
Georgia’s last NCAA Tournament appearance was three years ago, after Fox’s sixth year. The next two years saw Georgia in contention until the final weekend but fall short. This year’s team went 18-15 and was well off the bubble, despite having the AP SEC Player of the Year in senior Yante Maten.
Fox was asked if he could pinpoint anything he could have done differently, such as someone who should have played more, or anything along those lines. Again, he had no regrets.
“No, there’s really not a lot of things. You can’t coach that way,” he said. “And you’d be amazed the amount of planning details you go over before a game. So there’s not a lot of things that come to mind there.”
So what about the team he leaves to the next coach? Maten is gone, along with starting small forward Juwan Parker. But a trio of freshmen played big minutes down the stretch: forwards Rayshaun Hammonds and Nicolas Claxton and point guard Teshaun Hightower. And the team’s leading scorer in the SEC quarterfinals, the team’s final game of the year, was sophomore shooting guard Tyree Crump.
“The young talent is tremendous,” Fox said. “And I’m not trying to put pressure on those kids, but obviously when the freshmen end up taking more and more minutes throughout the year it’s obvious their talent level is what it is. And when they get stronger and more experienced I think they can take it to great places. They’ll obviously have to work the right way and make the right progress. But I think there’s terrific young players on the team. And some older guys who maybe lost some minutes this year and had smaller roles but passed the torch humbly to those younger guys.”