Mark Fox is aware of the circumstances surrounding his program.
Georgia is 15-12 overall with only an outside shot of reaching the NCAA Tournament. And that likely would involve winning the final four games of the regular season, beginning at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Alabama, and getting another win — or even two — in the SEC Tournament.
It doesn’t take long to find a vocal portion of the fan base criticizing Fox’s coaching performance this season. Message boards and social media sites have been tools for some fans to voice their displeasure with Georgia’s season to date.
Fox knows the criticism comes with the territory. He’s aware it exists. But at this stage of the season, with at least a chance of the NCAA Tournament still a possibility, Fox is doing his best to avoid it.
“That comes up even when you win,” Fox said. “Praise and criticism come from the same people. You have to treat them both the same. Ultimately, you can’t get on that roller coaster. We just keep our head to the ground and keep grinding.”
Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity holds a personal policy of avoiding comment on the evaluation of teams and coaches until after the season concludes.
Therefore, Fox was asked Tuesday if any discussions had taken place about his job performance with McGarity or Georgia president Jere Morehead and if this is something he’s concerned about.
“No, our total focus is on trying to play well and beat Alabama,” Fox said. “We obviously have to retool our team without Yante (Maten). That’s taken 110 percent of our energy and time.”
And that is the recent dilemma Fox has encountered in an otherwise tough season that has thrown its share of wrenches his way.
In addition to the inability to string together a lengthy winning streak that has featured numerous close losses, Georgia must now finish the regular season without its leading scorer in Maten, who severely sprained his right knee in Georgia’s 82-77 loss to Kentucky on Saturday.
Eight of Georgia’s 12 losses have come after the Bulldogs held leads following the final television timeout. Included in those games were two near-wins against Kentucky (one lost in overtime) and an overtime defeat at Florida, in which the Bulldogs led for 35:11 of the game.
Georgia led Texas A&M by nine with two minutes left to play before turning the ball over four times and allowing the Aggies to lead entering the Bulldogs’ final possession. From there, an inexplicable clock error occurred with 5.6 seconds left to play, with time running out as a result.
But then there is also the fact Georgia lost to RPI No. 120 Oakland on the road and by 20 points in a first meeting against Alabama at home. Picked to finish in the top four of the conference during the preseason, Georgia is 6-8 in conference play and in ninth place. This season’s woes combined with Georgia reaching the NCAA Tournament twice since Fox was hired in 2009 has the hot-seat talk gaining traction among outside observers.
Georgia senior guard J.J. Frazier does not believe these particular critiques of his head coach are founded but understands it comes along with the sport he competes in. Three days after Kentucky head coach John Calipari defended Fox’s coaching ability, Frazier stood up for his head coach.
“Yeah, it’s always tough to hear somebody you care about unjustly criticized,” Frazier said. “It’s part of life, it’s part of the game of basketball, it’s part of the business.”
While mentioning that Fox identified his talent when no other Power 5 conference did, Frazier said, “I don’t think you’ll find better,” when asked about the kind of basketball coach Fox is.
“I’m a guy who will always be grateful of what he’s taught me since I’ve been here,” Frazier said. “I know this is a business. He knows that. He’s also so focused about our team that he doesn’t care about anything else. But he’s been a big part of my life and I really appreciate him.”