Georgia Bulldogs Basketball: I Was Wrong About Mark Fox
Jason Smith weighs in on Georgia head coach Mark Fox following his extension.
I said before that Mark Fox should be fired, Bruce Pearl should be hired, and UGA would then become a perennial tournament team.
I was wrong.
Mark Fox should not be fired. Bruce Pearl is definitely a better coach than he is but I think Fox has proven that he is in fact worth keeping.
Now, I won’t lie to you. I had heard that very argument before and thought it was the dumbest crock of s*** I had ever heard. Most people who argued thusly cited the fact that UGA had turned in an incredible basketball season. 2nd in the SEC! Tied with Kentucky! NIT bid! How could we not be happy?
This argument is not my favorite for a few reasons:
1.) despite the incredible tournament performance of Florida, Tennessee, and Kentucky the SEC was hot garbage this year during the regular season. If the Tennessee we witnessed this weekend had shown up during the regular season for a consistent interval UGA would’ve finished in a different spot. This takes nothing away from the heart of the UGA team. They wouldn’t have finished last, by any means. But they also would not have finished 2nd.
2.) You are very short-sighted if you think that 2nd in a down SEC and an NIT bid is the best that UGA can do. In fact, I hope that we all long for an era of UGA basketball where that is almost a “failure.” Sure I hate the “what have you done for me lately?” hiring style that is rampant these days. But expectations often determine results. People that want to hold onto Mark Fox just because he beat Missouri twice are setting the bar waaaaaayyyyy too low.
Realistically, UGA should be able to recruit quality, non-one-and-done players out of Atlanta that provide the foundation for a perennial tournament program. The only thing that is holding UGA back from that goal is a tarnished image of a program mired in basketball inertia coupled with a dismal amount of fan support. (Seriously. If you are a current UGA student get your ass to basketball games. You’d be amazed at how quickly things will improve if fan attendance goes up). The key to making those things go away is a great recruiting class and, I thought, a “splash” of a head coaching hire.
I’ve since retracted on the head coaching hire. Here’s why.
Mark Fox is a really good coach. If he can become a good recruiter we might start to think of him as a “great” coach. But the line between those two things will hinge on recruiting. Now, why have I changed my tune on him all of a sudden?
For a while there I thought that Mark Fox was a decent coach who was reaping the benefit of raw talent. He was ma mediocre X’s and O’s guy but that got overshadowed by the talents of Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann.
Now I wonder if maybe we’ve had it the wrong way round this whole time. Maybe these guys aren’t any good on their own but Mark Fox manages to milk flashes of brilliance out of them. We don’t really have any definitive evidence either way.
Watching the SEC Tournament Georgia looked like a team desparate to lose. They looked like a team that was being held together by glue and duck tape and sheer will. I suppose I had always assumed that this “will” was the will of the players. After thinking it over I think I’ve been wrong all along.
I think Mark Fox has been carrying this team on his back.
It’s not surprising if you think about this guy. He lost his father the day before the Missouri game. He painted up and became one of the “Spike Squad.” He and Mark Richt are really good friends. His family is an integral part of the Athens community. There is no real reason for him to have approached this season lackadaisically. Yet, somehow we all (me) assumed that he didn’t have much of a chance at righting the ship. And somehow he has turned a team that almost had us ready to wear paper bags on our heads into a team that has a real shot at making the tournament next year.
That alone makes me believe in another few years for Mark Fox.
Now, I would be inclined to qualify that by saying he has to recruit well in the future. But even that may be an overstatement. Case in point, J.J. Frazier. In fact, the only mark against Fox (mark against Fox, get it?) is that J.J. Frazier hasn’t seen more of the spotlight.
In short, we may be waiting on Fox to get the Blue Chip one-and-done but look where doing that got teams like Duke. Maybe Fox is building something that could be great one day.
And one things for sure, no one takes time to build anything anymore.