ATHENS — What was long expected is now confirmed: Mark Fox is out as the Georgia basketball coach after nine years, the school deciding to move on after a disappointing season.
Cindy Fox, the coach’s wife, confirmed the news to DawgNation reporter Chip Towers on Saturday afternoon. The meeting to inform Fox of the final decision was Saturday morning on UGA’s campus.
“We’re fine. We’re at peace,” Cindy Fox said. “We feel a lot of satisfaction about what we’ve done here. And there’s a peace in knowing we did it the right way.”
There has been no official confirmation from the school yet. Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity declined comment as he entered the UGA basketball office on Saturday afternoon.
But the decision to move on from Mark Fox does not come as surprise. Even Fox appeared to have an inkling it was coming. Once a prolific tweeter, he has not tweeted since Feb. 10, before Georgia lost its eighth game in 10 days.
Georgia administrators basically decided several weeks ago that it was time to make a change, barring a drastic turnaround this season, according to people familiar with the decision. They may have informed Fox of that decision at the time.
Georgia will owe Fox a buyout of approximately $1.2 million. He had two years remaining on a contract he agreed to in 2015.
The question now is whether Georgia will keep playing this season. The Bulldogs are 18-15 and could receive a bid to the NIT. It’s not clear at this point whether UGA would accept the bid or whether Fox would coach the team in the event.
McGarity also declined comment on that Saturday, saying he “can’t talk about that stuff.”
Fox finishes with the third most wins in Georgia history, trailing Hugh Durham (297-215) and Herman Stegeman (170-78).
Fox was known for graduating his players, running a clean program and being well-liked by UGA administrators and boosters. But ultimately the stumbles of Fox’s ninth season, probably the most disappointing of his tenure, led to a parting of ways.
Georgia joins Ole Miss in having an opening in the SEC and could be competing for similar candidates, along with any other major-conference jobs that come open. Pittsburgh, Louisville and UConn are also among the jobs that are now open.
Two coaching free agents, Thad Matta and Tom Crean, head the list of possible candidates, along with the usual mid-major route, which includes College of Charleston coach Earl Grant. It’s not known if Georgia would talk to an assistant coach, considering the uncertainty of the ongoing FBI probe. Current assistant coach Jonas Hayes, a former Georgia player, has also been mentioned as a candidate.
Fox’s winning percentage (just under 55 percent) ranks right in the middle – 12th out of 23 – among all-time Georgia basketball coaches, including several from early in the 20th century who only coached one season.
Georgia had four 20-win seasons under Fox, tying Durham for the most Georgia has had under one coach. Fox also took Georgia to two of the 12 NCAA Tournament appearances it has made in program history. Georgia finished with a winning or .500 record in all but three of his nine seasons, including double-digit SEC wins three times.
Nine years ago, then-athletic director Damon Evans fired Dennis Felton, who went 84-91 in five-plus seasons. Felton had taken over amid NCAA sanctions that came down following the tenure of Jim Harrick.
After a long search, Evans hired Fox, who had guided Nevada to three NCAAA tournament appearances during his five years. His record there was 123-43.
Fox took the nucleus left by Felton – mainly forward Trey Thompkins, guard Travis Leslie and center Jeremy Price – and guided the Bulldogs to their first at-large NCAA Tournament berth in 10 years. They were a No. 10 seed and were eliminated in the first round by Washington, led then by current NBA guard Isaiah Thomas.
Thompkins and Leslie then left a year early for the NBA draft. Georgia had two straight losing seasons despite the presence of future NBA lottery pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who left after his sophomore year. And as Georgia struggled in non-conference play the following seasons, Fox seemed in imminent trouble.
But beginning with an upset win at Missouri to open SEC play, Georgia went on a run to the NIT. A year later, the Bulldogs returned to the NCAA Tournament, again earning a No. 10 seed and again going out in the first round, this time to Michigan State, which went on to the Final Four.
The next two years saw Georgia contend for an NCAA bid but ultimately miss out, ending up in the NIT. As Fox wrapped up his eighth year, there was speculation he would be let go, but McGarity ended that before the NCAA Tournament, saying Fox would return.
This season began with higher expectations, especially after Yante Maten announced he would return for his senior year. And the Bulldogs started well, going 11-3 and notching wins over St. Mary’s, Marquette and Alabama.
But the bottom fell out as SEC play continued. Georgia at one point lost eight out of 10 games. After rebounding to win three of four, the Bulldogs dropped their final two games of the regular season. That made an at-large NCAA Tournament bid unrealistic and seemed to seal Fox’s fate.