The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jeff Schultz produced a puff piece on Georgia Basketball’s rebuilding efforts.
The University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism is needed more than ever before by the University of Georgia Athletic Association. In the past eighteen months, there has never been more media gaffes and public relations issues than at any time since former Athletic Director Vince Dooley and his administration were given an end date on their tenure and then escorted out of Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall by plainclothes police officers. These instances of messaging, optics and relations nightmares have been chronicled by this publication and it is with great regret that another misstep has been made. Mark Fox did it again.
This trainwreck of an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was a feature piece on Mark Fox and the progress he has made with Georgia Basketball. If it had a different tone and was produced in early October, it would not be so awful and objectionable. However, given the events of recent vintage, it is an attempt to whitewash and spin. Unfortunately, much of this article requires a proper rebuttal.
The “Dream” Job
Is it really his “dream” job? It actually was Oliver Purnell’s dream job. Purnell wanted to coach at Georgia because he would never have had to worry about UGA not having the money to pay his contract, unlike Clemson at that time. In fact, Georgia had several opportunities to hire Purnell, but opted to go scorched earth with Dennis Felton and then chose Mark Fox. Clemson denies that Purnell tried to interview for the Georgia job in 2009, but this based on insider sources is actually untrue.
Back to Fox and Georgia being his “dream” job. Fox’s “dream” job is to coach at the University of Kansas. Fox is from Garden City, Kansas, he grew up a Kansas Jayhawks fan and he received his Masters Degree from the University of Kansas. The University of Kansas is his “dream” job, not the University of Georgia.
He claims that he did not realize what the challenges were for the Georgia Men’s Basketball Head Coach. Jordan Bazant of WME, his agent, should have informed him at least about the waters he was to enter. Bazant is a Vanderbilt graduate who represents plenty of College Basketball coaches and media personalities, he should know the landscape of the SEC rather well.
Fox could have asked fellow members of the tight-knit College Basketball coaching fraternity about the challenges of coaching at the University of Georgia. He could have asked specific questions about what was under the surface so that he could have a better grasp on whether this position was worth pursuing. If he did not do his homework or ask pertinent questions before receiving and accepting the offer, what message does this send? There are several possibilities:
- Mark Fox was itching to leave Reno and take any high-major position that he could. He opted to nod his head, smile and say anything to placate former UGA President Michael Adams.
- Fox knew that the Nevada program was on a downward slide and did not care about the level of difficulty that the Georgia job presented. Fox saw more money and the opportunity to bail on a sinking ship, let David Carter clean up the mess. Nevada never made the NCAA Tournament under Carter. Nevada’s move to the Mountain West Conference and tougher opposition impacted their record negatively.
- Fox asked the tough questions and former President Michael Adams deceived him during the interview. UGA painted a picture that was not accurate and Fox bought it. Fox believed the lie and was just happy to become a Head Coach in a major conference and the pay raise made it all worth it.
- Fox is lying through his teeth during this interview with Jeff Schultz. Schultz did not even bother to question to the veracity of Fox’s responses, but this could be a case of honest journalism. Schultz is merely reporting and Fox is giving him the responses that would make the reader call much into question.
So Adams explained why Fox was set up to fail a few months after the contract was signed? What did Michael Adams say to Mark Fox during the interview? Does Adams recall having such a conversation and would he confirm that such a statement was made? It would awfully cold of Adams to deny this conversation ever happened, in fact, it would be something that Adams would absolutely deny. After all, to confirm this conversation would make it look like Adams was being deceptive. Fox is in a no-win situation here by even saying something like this.
Why would it take a Men’s Basketball Coach in the SEC ten years to turn around a program that had zero NCAA sanctions at the time? Why put out a number like 10 to 12 years? Did this conversation really take place? It’s one thing to say President Michael Adams was a corrupt, unpopular, egomaniacal micromanager. It is another to put uncorroborated words into his mouth that seem weirdly convenient for the time of the interview. Adams is a much-hated personality, but using him as a foil in this fashion is cowardly.
Keep in mind, this is Year 8 of the Mark Fox era. Year 4 without President Michael Adams to hold him down as far as recruiting restrictions.
Back to the program requiring 10 to 12 years to turn around… Jerry Sandusky molested and sexually abused young, disadvantaged children for decades through his charity organization, The Second Mile. Sandusky was the long-time Defensive Coordinator for the Penn State Football program under the direction of Head Coach Joe Paterno. There was a concerted effort at Penn State to keep these depraved and sickening criminal acts from becoming publicized and/or reported to authorities. Penn State’s Football Program was leveled and received near-Death Penalty sanctions and the institution faced a vote as to whether they would remain in the Big Ten Conference.
The sanctions were eventually lifted from Penn State Football in 2014 and the scholarship sanctions were removed in 2015. Penn State Football was thought to be in the grave and remain there, but this did not end up happening. In fact, Penn State won the Big Ten Conference Championship this Football Season and will play in the Rose Bowl on January 2 against USC.
What has Baylor done in the wake of the Patrick Dennehy murder and frightening cover-up and smear attempt by former Head Coach Dave Bliss? This is a program with hardly any Men’s Basketball tradition and they have just been one of the best College Basketball programs under Scott Drew.
Did it take ten years to turn it around? Nope. It just took five years and then another two more to show that they were going to be contenders in the Big XII for the long haul and the rest of the conference better get used to it.
Were there any rape scandals, child molestation issues or smears of murdered student-athletes to cover up NCAA violations? No.
Why would such a revelation come out now about 10 to 12 years to fix Georgia Basketball? Fox was hired in 2009 and for him a 10 to 12 year arc to “turn things around” would require a contract extension! Fox is signed through the 2019-20 season. He is subtly messaging that he needs another two year extension to truly fix it. Fox is basically admitting that Georgia is in a rebuilding phase once again, but that it would likely be the finally rebuild of the whole process.
Then Fox gives an anecdote that has NOTHING to do with a 10 to 12 year rebuilding process for an entire program, but rather brings up a small issue that involved a handful of student-athletes that he had inherited from Dennis Felton. The Felton era was a weird blend of authoritarian discipline and an inability to maintain it that made former President Michael Adams look very bad. Mark Fox has had teams that he has put together for far longer than he had Dennis Felton’s signees. It’s Fox’s culture, it’s UGA’s culture. Was Fox saying that President Adams and the entire administration of past Athletic Director Damon Evans was a complete mess and that the system was rigged for him to fail? There’s truth to that, but Adams and Evans are gone. Yes, there are boosters and a majority of Georgia Football that want Georgia Basketball to fail, but if he cannot overcome it, why does he want to stick around?
It is why the Washington rumors will not go away. Lorenzo Romar is languishing at his alma mater as he cannot get his team to play defense. Romar has not been to an NCAA Tournament since he beat Georgia in Charlotte in 2011. Accepting a call from the University of Washington is the easy and financially shrewd way out. A six or seven year contract from the University of Washington sets Fox up until 2023 or 2024 and he would be able to put his friends on his staff. Trent Johnson would be his Associate Head Coach and David Carter would join the staff. It would be one big reunion in Seattle.
The first sentence is certainly true, but the metrics and on-the-court performances are not reflecting it. The second sentence is an understatement.
Georgia is not 5-3, the team is 4-3. Georgia beat Division II opponent Fort Valley State, why does that game not count and the game against Division II Morehouse count? Exactly. The Morehouse game does not count and is not factored in by the NCAA Tournament Committee.
The SEC is still down (and remain down) and there are no excuses for Georgia not getting the double-bye with the most talented roster that he has coached in Athens. Right now, this team is projected to finish 16-14 and have a conference record of 8-10, which would be worthy of not playing on Wednesday evening in Nashville. It would also not be worthy of any postseason bids outside of the CBI. Georgia put in place a challenging schedule by offseason standards, but the team has to actually win some of these games.
As far as the 20 win season streak, it is a bit tainted.
In the 2013-14 Season, Georgia finished the regular season 18-12 with a conference record of 12-6. Georgia was a 6-6 team in the non-conference slate. The team started 1-4 in the non-conference with losses to Georgia Tech, Davidson, Temple and Nebraska. Georgia needed a win over Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament and a win over Vermont in the NIT to get the team to 20 wins. The final game of the season was an absolute embarrassment at the hands of future Florida Head Coach Mike White who was coaching the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs.
How many NCAA Tournament teams did Georgia beat that season? One. It was Wofford.
In the 2014-15 Season, Georgia finished the regular season 20-10 (conference record 11-7), which was a good enough record to make the NCAA Tournament. Georgia’s non-conference opponents did not help their RPI and Strength of Schedule by completely collapsing in the second half of conference play. Colorado, Seton Hall and Kansas State were thought to boost Georgia, but they ended up looking VERY ordinary as all three programs were incredibly disappointing. Georgia’s non-conference schedule looked like a sham. This team dealt with numerous injuries and the ceiling for this team will never be known. Georgia beat South Carolina in the SEC Tournament and subsequently lost to Arkansas in the semifinals. The NCAA Tournament came and Georgia was outclassed by an under-seeded and angry Michigan State team.
How many NCAA Tournament teams did Georgia beat that season? One. They beat Ole Miss twice. Ole Miss went to Dayton and defeated BYU to earn a matchup against Xavier.
The 2015-16 Season was marked by distrust from Mark Fox. Fox could not trust his freshmen and wore his Big Four out. Fox was unsure of the pace of play and it was viewed as a disappointing transition season with winning efforts that came too little, too late. Georgia finished the regular season 17-12 with a 10-8 conference record. Seton Hall and Kansas State beat Georgia in their rematches. Georgia even lost to Chattanooga at Stegeman Coliseum, in the previous two seasons Georgia blew out Chattanooga! Murray State was a hyped opponent by the UGA Athletic Association and they actually were a program that was very much down, it was obvious in the preseason, but any moral victory will do with that crew. Georgia picked up two victories in Nashville over South Carolina and Mississippi State. Mark Fox did a promo with Dick Vitale about no cupcakes in his schedule, which was a lie. Win number 20 came at Stegeman Coliseum in the NIT against Belmont.
How many NCAA Tournament teams did Georgia beat this past season? Zero.
Oh here we go. Lying and cheating while juxtaposed against modest roots. NCAA rules are antiquated and they restrict student-athletes to an extent unseen in any other capacity. The NCAA is a dishonest, corrupt organization and they have yet to experience justice for obstruction of justice regarding their involvement in the Nevin Shapiro case.
Jeff Schultz apparently thinks AAU is dirty because many teams are coached by people of a different skin color as him. It is an unfortunately common statement to say that AAU is dirty, but College Football recruiting is pristine. High School Football is doing more damage to young people than AAU Basketball, but it is sadly easy to characterize inner city people with a different skin color and culture as being slimy. AAU is actually just fine and there is nothing wrong with parents and High School student-athletes receiving money for their abilities. There is no such thing as cheating, the only people being cheated nowadays are the student-athletes. Ordinary High School and College students can receive compensation for anything, but student-athletes are restricted in the name of amateurism. Real estate and building developers can make larger revenues simply by contributing large sums to Athletic Departments and supporting the amateurism initiative because the way to supposedly “attract” recruits is through new buildings and facilities since they cannot actually receive payments.
Every coach interacts with AAU teams and circuit. Mark Fox goes to Nike EYBL events all the time.
The whole outrage over one-and-done is another talking point that feeds into the same horrible narrative. One-and-done is fine, it is the NBA’s rules that make it so that College Basketball and other professional leagues have to vet out talent for them. College Basketball is perfectly fine with one-and-done existing, there’s no need for a weird paternalism toward 18 year old adults. The ugly and false stereotype of the poor, black student-athlete who cannot read, make a decision of their own and has a penchant for committing crimes is rearing its head in this article. This does not help. Student-athletes are idiosyncratic adults, but this sort of talk in an article about Georgia Basketball sets everyone back.
Schultz is making weird, inaccurate, dog-whistle talking points that cater to the wrong crowd.
Brad Stevens took Butler to Final Fours because he was a big fish in a small pond. Butler Basketball under Brad Stevens dominated the Horizon League and there was less preparation film available. In March Madness, anything is possible, but the path to it is rather challenging.
It is not like Stevens inherited a terrible program. Stevens had good predecessors, Butler was a strong program for a while. Butler was a better Men’s Basketball school than a good chunk of the SEC prior to Stevens’ arrival. Barry Collier, Thad Matta and Todd Lickliter are real garbage coaches, huh? All three ended up coaching at Big Ten schools (granted Collier was at Nebraska when they were in the Big XII).
Barry Collier at Butler
Thad Matta at Butler
Todd Lickliter at Butler
Not too shabby and they all parlayed their success to bigger programs, just the way Brad Stevens went to the Boston Basketball Club of the NBA.
Way to move the goal posts. This is how you do it. This publication sees through it and hopefully more will see it that way as well. Fox and the UGA Athletic Association are resetting that bar after the first seven official games.