Bill Shanks

Georgia had no choice but to fire Mark Fox

Georgia head coach Mark Fox leaves the court after the team's loss to Texas A&M in February in Athens. Fox has been fired following a disappointing regular season and the team's loss to Kentucky in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
Georgia head coach Mark Fox leaves the court after the team's loss to Texas A&M in February in Athens. Fox has been fired following a disappointing regular season and the team's loss to Kentucky in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament. AP

Firing a coach is never a good thing. It’s represents the need to do better than what has been done, and Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity had no choice but to fire Mark Fox and find someone else.

This was a no-brainer, regardless of what John Calipari, Jay Bilas and others said to try to make firing Fox seem like a bad decision. It had to happen. Fox is a good coach, but he’s just not been successful enough to keep for a 10th season. He had his chance. It’s just time.

With the mess going on in college basketball, it’s easy to appreciate how Fox ran the Georgia program and leap praise on him. Sure, many other programs obviously are doing bad things to attract talent. Saying Fox should have stayed because he ran a clean program, despite his mediocre record, implies he’s the only coach in America who doesn’t cheat. That’s not true. There are others who are doing things the right way who might be better in Athens than Fox.

Georgia went to the NCAA tournament twice in Fox’s nine seasons. In his previous job at Nevada, he went three times in five years as head coach. Nevada won at least 20 games in each of Fox’s seasons in charge, but in Athens it happened only four times. Fox was brought to Athens to do what he did out west. It just hasn’t happened.

His SEC record was enough to warrant a change. Fox was 77-79 in the conference. That’s a losing record and was unacceptable. If a coach can’t win in his own conference, he shouldn’t be the coach any longer, especially after nine seasons.

Look, no one is asking for a NCAA championship for this program. It would be nice, but it’s not the same requirement that was asked of Kirby Smart when he took over the Georgia football team. The expectation is that Smart should give Georgia a great chance to win it all in football. But in basketball, the simple request should be that it be better than this.

Fox seems like a good man and is a good coach. It’s not like he’s Ron Jirsa, who was bad and overwhelmed as a young coach 20 years ago, or Jim Harrick, who got Georgia in NCAA trouble with an academic scandal. Fox was better than Dennis Felton, who for six years prior to the Fox era had a losing record. Although Felton did win a SEC Championship, something Fox never even came close to playing for.

With the basketball talent in this state, Georgia should be better. Over a nine-year span, this program should be in the NCAA tournament more than twice and should win 20 games more than four times. That’s what it’s done, and now someone will be brought in to try and do better.

Picking Fox’s replacement will be McGarity’s biggest decision as AD. He was told to fire Mark Richt and hire Smart by big financial donors. This is McGarity’s call. He can’t afford to mess it up, or the heat on him will only get hotter.

Fox had nine years to make Georgia basketball better and relevant. Being better than his predecessor was not enough. He needed to make it better than it has been to keep up with an improving SEC, and it just didn’t happen.

He had one of the SEC’s best players (Yante Maten) this year, a roster many believed was one of his best and the team underperformed. Again. He’s had talented players, but he just didn’t win enough. Wins are what judge a team’s performance, regardless of how clean a program is run.

Georgia will thank Fox for his nine years of service, but it’s just time to move on. Let’s hope McGarity doesn’t invite Fox to the press conference explaining the decision. That didn’t work the last time.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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