ST. LOUIS – When Mike Anderson got the question – what was his reaction to Georgia firing Mark Fox? – it was evident that Anderson didn’t know yet. Neither did his wife, Marcheita Anderson, sitting a few feet away, who groaned, closed her eyes and leaned back in her chair, frowning.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Mike Anderson, who as Arkansas coach has been in the SEC for seven of the nine years that Fox was at Georgia. “Mark’s a very good friend. And his wife. I wish him the best. Great coach. And he’ll still be coaching somewhere.”
That was the prevailing sentiment at the SEC Tournament upon hearing the news of Fox being let go. There was not much anger – Fox had been at Georgia a long time, after all – but there was sadness. Fox seemed to enjoy universal respect from his peers, both as a coach and as a person.
But everyone also understood that it’s a business.
“Sad. I’ve been there,” said Tennessee coach Rick Barnes, who was fired by Texas three years ago. “I don’t think he’s through coaching. He’d be a gem for anybody. One, he’s a terrific coach and a great man. I love everything he stands for. I think that anybody that would have him that would be a feather in their cap, really.
“I understand it, he’d been there a long time and all that. In today’s basketball I’m not sure guys are going to be able to stay there longer. But he was there what, eight or nine years? He should be proud of the fact he did it the right way, he brought a lot of dignity with the way he did it. And I can tell you he’s just a terrific basketball coach, and I think a better person.”
Alabama coach Avery Johnson had also not heard of Fox’s firing when he was asked about it on Saturday afternoon.
“Good man. Good coach. Yeah, very disappointing,” said Johnson, who has Alabama poised to get an NCAA Tournament bid in his third year at the school. “When you come into the SEC like I did three years ago, even though we all try to win recruiting battles and we want to win on the floor, there’s a little bit of a brotherhood with the coaches. …
“I’m disappointed for Mark, but I’m sure he’ll bounce back. I’m sure he’ll bounce back because he’s a good man and he’s a really good basketball coach.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari wasn’t asked about Fox on Saturday, but he’s made his feelings clear in the past, including on Friday. After Kentucky beat Georgia on Friday in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals, Calipari said he told Fox before the game he wouldn’t mind if Georgia won the game and put an end to the speculation about his job. Even last year, when there was also speculation about Fox’ future, Calipari went on an unprompted rant after a game at Stegeman Coliseum.
Calipari was hired by Kentucky a day before Fox was hired by Georgia in 2009. They took over diametrically different programs, with very different expectations, but both were taking over for coaches who had been fired.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on out there, stuff that’s not going on at Georgia,” Calipari said on Friday, saying he hoped UGA’s administration realized that and kept Fox.
But a decision had apparently already been reached and was confirmed on Saturday. Now Georgia has an opening.
Anderson was asked what kind of job he thought Georgia is.
“Georgia obviously in the SEC and a state that’s loaded with players year in and year out, it’s a good job,” Anderson said. “But sorry to hear that news on Mark.”