Mark Fox … Again
Barring someone hiring him away, it appears Mark Fox will be on the sidelines for UGA next fall. Perhaps some doubted Athletic Director Greg McGarity after he addressed the rumors that he was looking around, investigating possible replacements last week before the SEC tournament. One may have hoped that, rather than sticking to his usual script of not commenting about the status of a coach until the end of the season, McGarity sought to deflect attention away from any search at least until after our post season concluded. One may have hoped that McGarity said what he did to keep the players focused on their tournament play and that he could easily do an about face after the season.
Per DawgNation, “In response to the report by Yahoo Sports, we are NOT in the process of exploring our options to replace Mark Fox. We look forward to Mark leading our program next year and all of our efforts are centered on postseason play,” McGarity said. “It’s unfortunate we need to respond at this time, but it was necessary to quiet these unfounded rumors.”
Apparently, any speculation that McGarity did not mean what he said seemed to go by the wayside when it was reported that Fox went on a recruiting trip to Connecticut and offered 6’8″ PF Isaac Kante on Thursday, March 16, just a day after falling to Belmont in the NIT. That doesn’t sound like the actions of a man who has any doubt where he will be in the fall. Kante has a pretty decent offer list, including Georgetown, Dayton, DePaul, St. Joseph’s, Kansas State and others (including Kennesaw State). Kante plays for Putnam Science Academy with a front line that goes 6’10” (Malik Ondigo), 6’9″ (Alexis Yetna) and 6’8″ (Kante) (and they bring a 6’10” post off the bench), and PSA was in the final four of the National Prep Championship (though, for the life of me, I cannot determine who won).
The chances of anyone hiring Fox away grows slimmer by the day. It was reported by several sources that the North Carolina State had reached an agreement in principle with UNC-Wilmington coach Kevin Keatts. If the reports are true, Keatts will be a good hire for North Carolina State. Keatts, a Rick Pitino protege, will reportedly be earning $2.2 million per season. He should have been high on UGA’s list had it parted ways with Fox. Missouri quickly, and surprisingly, filled its opening with former Tennessee and Cal coach Cuonzo Martin by throwing 7 years and $21 million at a coach who was just 62-39 (28-24 in the PAC-12). Washington and Illinois, just to name two, are jobs that remain open (Illinois, not anymore. They saved $75,000 on search firm fees by poaching Brad Underwood from Oklahoma State in a brilliant coup).
Update 3/19/2016: Washington filled their vacancy with Syracuse Assistant Coach Mike Hopkins. Fox was rumored to be involved for this position, but Washington preferred an Assistant Coach to Mark Fox. This is where we are people. In tough to swallow news, rumors are floating that Mark Fox may actually get a contract extension from Georgia as well.
So, it looks as if, whether you are a fan of Fox’s or not, he will be UGA’s coach at least for the 2017-18 season. We here at GBB have expressed our varied opinions on Fox and his tenure at UGA. Another recent voice rendering his opinion is Dean Legge of Scout. In his article, Legge states:
“[McGarity] should fully reassess the basketball program. This has to be considered one of the most disappointing seasons in a very long time at Georgia. The results of the 2016-17 season adds to a building apathy in Athens regarding basketball.
People don’t care….
Only one high-major program in the country has retained a coach who has lost more than 12 games each of the last eight years – Georgia.
Only one high-major program in the country has retained a coach the last eight years who has yet to win an NCAA Tournament game in that time at that particular institution – Georgia.
That inaction leads to an acknowledgment that UGA as an institution has a failure of imagination of what the basketball program in Athens can achieve. They are OK with being OK, and that’s not fair to fans, and is an indictment of the leadership at UGA. “
What is evident is that McGarity is fine with mediocrity in basketball. As long as the players are good kids, go to class, graduate, don’t get in trouble and don’t bring any problems for the administration, much less compete with UGA’s image as a “football school,” and as long as the basketball program stays out of any NCAA trouble, then Fox’s lack of achievement is acceptable.
But 20 wins without post-season success is no barometer of accomplishment. Fox was fired by UGA exactly 2 days after John Calipari was hired at Kentucky eight years ago. While UGA is no Kentucky when it comes to college basketball, some decent level of on-court success MUST be expected. 2 NIT wins over Vermont and Belmont do not equate to on-court success. UGA has been ranked in the Top 25 for all of 1 week of Fox’s tenure. UGA men’s hoops is an afterthought. The bar is unbelievably low. Sad but true….
Perhaps Legge is right that the problem is a lack of imagination by those in charge. GBB thinks the problem goes deeper than that and is more systemic. Less than 3,000 people showed up for the NIT loss to Belmont, which proved to be J.J. Frazier’s last game in a UGA uniform – a sad way for such a great player in UGA history to exit. People are clearly apathetic, and that is the worst place for fans to be. People need to be angry about the state of the program. Some are, but not enough.
McGarity Is A BIG Problem
UGA basketball fans, in large part, seem to mirror the seeming apathy of the administration, the expectations of the administration. The program lacks energy, innovation and vision. Greg McGarity’s coaching hires have generally been somewhere between underachieving and disastrous, though he, of course, did not initially hire Fox. If McGarity is unwilling or unable to expect more or instill greater energy in the program, he needs to step aside and allow someone with greater vision and ambition to take over basketball (an assistant AD with no UGA ties that comes from a basketball power where things are done the right way would be a good start), and perhaps the entire athletic program.
At least hire someone who can shake things up for UGA basketball. Each year that goes by, UGA is digging a deeper hole that becomes increasingly more difficult from which to climb out. Greater success is achievable, which will add more fans and increase the bottom line. All the resources exist for UGA to have relevant basketball program. Yet, UGA continues to flail in basketball, with no direction – no goals – low expectations. The fans that do care, and there are many more than are evident, deserve better. Doesn’t the venerable building in which UGA plays its hoops, that has been witness to great players and great moments in the past, deserve better?