Win won’t save Georgia’s season but Mark Fox likely safe

Odds favor Georgia basketball coach Mark Fox surviving a poor season. (Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

Odds favor Georgia basketball coach Mark Fox surviving a poor season. (Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

ATHENS – This was one of the good days. Georgia won a basketball game over an opponent with a better record. Home fans were happy. Mark Fox wasn’t apoplectic. Welcome to the aberration of the 2015-16 season.

“We’re just trying to make this group as good as we can,” Fox said after an 80-66 win over Mississippi. “Obviously we haven’t had as good a season as we did last year, or even the year before. But it’s not going to be rosy every day in this business.”

No. But the absence of a sense of doom would be nice.

Georgia made it to the NCAA tournament last season (losing to eventual Final Four team Michigan State) and there were expectations this season’s team would be back in the tournament this season. That’s an extreme longshot now, unless you’re anticipating an implausible run and an upset of Kentucky in the SEC tournament.

Fox points to some pre-season injuries that messed with the Bulldogs’ depth and anticipated rotations as reasons for this season’s fizzle. But that’s really no excuse for some of the Bulldogs’ performances this season, notably a loss at Auburn last Wednesday. Players looked flat, disinterested, defeated.

“I think our spirit was a little broken after losses to Florida and Vandy,” Fox said. “That’s no excuse for not playing well (at Auburn), but I just didn’t think we had the same vigor. We talked about dealing with adversity. Adversity is a part of life, and if you don’t want to deal with it now you never will.”

Nice speech. For once, it wasn’t lost in translation.

The Dogs didn’t face plant out of the gate, which has been a frequent problem this season. They played well defensively, crashed the boards, got strong performances from guards Kenny Gaines and J.J. Frazier — 49 points, four steals and zero turnovers between them — and committed only seven turnovers.

Georgia outscored Ole Miss 22-2 off turnovers and 19-7 in second-chance points. That’s about effort.

It doesn’t mean much in the big picture. Georgia (15-12, 8-8) is scrambling just to finish .500 in the conference and the best it can realistically hope for is an NIT invitation. The real question: Where are things headed under Fox? He’s a really good coach who has had a really bad year. This has been his worst of his seven seasons, given expectations and what he had returning (six players and three starters, including a pair of senior guards, Gaines and Charles Mann).

But it’s unlikely he is going to get fired, and I’m not sure that he should be.

Athletic director Greg McGarity issued his standard response Saturday when asked his view of Fox and the program: “Same answer I would give for tennis, golf, basketball, football. I don’t make any comments during the year.”

He pushed the button on the Mark Richt firing. That actually is one reason why Fox may be safe. To fire Fox would necessitate a $2.4 million buyout. That’s on top of the approximate $6.2 million Georgia is paying Richt and several former assistants who were let go after the football season. Even athletic departments flush with revenue don’t like spending $8.6 million on coaches to not coach.

It’s understandable why some fans want Fox out. He will have made the tournament only twice in seven seasons, which doesn’t suggest overwhelming success. But it’s important to remember the bag of manure he inherited post-Jim Harrick/Dennis Felton. That’s not an excuse to be used for eternity, but Fox has refused to kiss the recruiting vermin down at the AAU level, for which he has McGarity’s respect and support.

Also, Fox’s previous two teams went 23-13 in the SEC and had 20-plus wins overall. Only Tubby Smith accomplished the latter in Athens. (Jim Harrick would’ve gotten there if the school the school hadn’t to pull out of SEC and NCAA tournament play in 2003 in anticipation NCAA sanctions. But he also wouldn’t have won so many games if he hadn’t cheated.)

This season represents Fox’s first horrible step backwards. Yes, Georgia went from 21-12 with an NCAA berth in 2012 (Fox’s second year) to 15-17 the next two seasons. But as he said, referencing the unexpected defections of both Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins to the pros, “When those guys went pro, we weren’t ready for that.”

As for this year, “Our expectation with this group was that we would have a chance in late February to do something, and we were in position to if we had beaten Florida or Vandy.”

Next year could be better. Next year should be better. Frazier, Yante Maten and the injured Juwan Parker will be back. A couple of top recruits will be coming in. Fox is optimistic.

“We can have a terrific young team,” he said.

At some point, words won’t be enough.

Recent ramblings from the Digital Jukebox

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17 comments
Ginger & Spice
Ginger & Spice

Charles Mann was pathetic. No excuse. Puts in ZERO effort to his game. You can see that by watching him shoot in warm-ups. He may put 23 hours in a gym daily, but he puts nothing into the 23 hours. Say NO to David Boyd and Sharman White players. YOU DON'T WANT THEM. 

HadleyV
HadleyV

if the dogs get an NIT bid, will fox get a huge bonus and raise??? the man wants more money!

WhopperDawg
WhopperDawg

It is maddening to me the rock bottom expectations for the UGA basketball team. In a state with the home grown talent the Georgia has it is simply not acceptable to have a basketball program this bad. You just need the right coach. We are 9th in the SEC and that is about right. 9th. Maybe we don't have the money, but after 7 years of Fox it is painfully obvious this is what you have. He has no more cards in the deck, all of the bunnies are out of the hat. It doesn't take a decade to fix a program and the truth is he can't or he would have done it already.


Make a change, get the right guy and here's a hint - make sure he can recruit too.

MoistDawg
MoistDawg

we can still make a run and win the $ec confrence championship but we really need to make a committment to making uga the best basketball team in america to match the football team its time for our cheapskate president to put up some money and build a new arena and tare down that dump stegman then we need to make a major hire like pat riley or phil jackson or even offer a truckload of money to cal or coach k it makes me sick to my stomach to see how neglected our basketball program is

Mulk
Mulk

@MoistDawg Moist,


They are already matching the football team.

OH:IO
OH:IO

dogs are a gym dog school

KeepOnSmilingWetWillie
KeepOnSmilingWetWillie

“We can have a terrific young team,” he said......sounds like he has his excuse for next year already 

RaleighDawg
RaleighDawg

Yeah, Fox had to struggle with the two NBA draft picks Felton left him...

slydawg
slydawg

The University of Georgia Athletics Department should have no business using buyout figures as an excuse not to fire a coach whose program is stuck in mexiocrity. The Georgia Athletics Association, not counting the university itself, has almost $100 million sitting in a reserve fund, i.e., a damn savings account.

Fox is safe for two reasons:

1. It might be bad juju to terminate two outstanding personalities from two of your biggest programs within too short of a period.

2. McGarity has not committed resources yet to fully evaluate to basketball program in order to make such a change and make a good hire. Furthermore, resources will have to be committed to renovate Stegman or build an entirely new facility. It took forever just to get approval for an indoor practice facility in football,the last in the conference to do so.

And last, if Georgia took basketball seriously, Cameron Dollar or one of his family members would be a member of the athletics department by now. And we all know why and what for.

LOGS1973
LOGS1973

@slydawg That personality is important is important

in sports!! Worth at least 6 wins a year!! lol 

khd713
khd713

@slydawg Being stuck in mexiocrity is the worst. One time I lost my wallet, passport and plane tickets in Cancun and had no way to get home. You haven't truly experienced mexiocrity until you've tried to recover your identity at the local government office in Cancun.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@khd713 

No way to get home???!!!

So you're still down there?!

Hope I don't ever get stuck in that mexiocrity.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@1joshturner 

It all depends on your definition of "decent."

Is a .500 mark in a basketball-weak SEC "decent" in your eyes?

If so, you need to raise your standards.

OH:IO
OH:IO

FIRE SCHOTTY!