ATHENS — The University of Georgia on Wednesday announced a two-year contract extension for men’s basketball coach Mark Fox. That means it will expire at the end of the 2017-18 season.
Fox’s fifth Georgia team went 20-14 this past season and finished in a tie for second place in the SEC with a 12-6. Fox has an overall record of 85-77 and an SEC record of 40-44 heading into his sixth season.
Fox was traveling to Texas for the Final Four and is not answering questions about the extension beyond the statement he gave in the UGA’s news release. Meanwhile, Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity sat down with reporters at the Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall on Wednesday to discuss the extension and share his thoughts on the direction of the men’s basketball program and his expectations for it.
Fox had two years remaining in his previous contract. Why were you compelled to extend and why two years?
“I think it was important for a number of reasons, because you’re on the recruiting trail and I think it was important for people to know this. This was a really good year. We didn’t reach all the expectations that we wanted to from the NCAA standpoint but 20 wins, I think, sets the table for us next year and I think there’s a lot of momentum building toward that. We just thought it was the right thing to do at this point in time.”
Why not just one year?
“Well, I think there’s a time for a young man (who) wants to maybe feel comfortable. It kind of puts to rest any questions when of when you’re talking to a high school prospect of, ‘Well, how long are you going to be around?’ So I think this kind of takes that off the table from that standpoint, which is important to anyone entering the depth of their initial contract.”
Was there a point when the hot-seat question was answered for you?
“I’m just like other fans. You look for certain things during the season, that’s why you wait until the end of the season for something of this nature. There’s so many highs and lows in every sport. Football back in 2011 – we start off 0-2 and if you make your decision then you’re not taking the whole picture into account. You want to see how the whole year fleshes out and you don’t make those kinds of decisions midway through the year, three-quarters of the way. You wait until the whole body of work is in place and you make decisions based on that. So there wasn’t a point in time until after the season until you review everything, you see who you’ve got coming back. You look at our scheduling, you look at all of those things and we feel like if we can continue to build on what we did this year and after that, build on that, I think that’s where we all want to be in this four-year period.
Where do you want to see the program get to?
“I think the program should be just like any other program that we sponsor, we want to be competitive in the SEC and usually if you’re competitive in the SEC then you’re competitive on a national level. So I think we all – every sport we have with 15 different head coaches – our goal is to all be competing in the NCAA Championship for whatever sport that may be. If you look at our goals as a department, that’s one of our goals – that every team competes in their national championship. Basketball should be treated just as other sports and as far as expectations.”
On recruiting …
“We need to recruit at a very high level, because you have to continually kind of restock every year. That’s a very important point, and we did talk about it as well as other things. But needless to say sometimes that is the elephant in the room. We realize what needs to be done, but our staff stands ready to assist in any way.”
Has Fox expressed frustrations about recruiting?
“You’d have to ask Mark that question, but I’m sure there are some misses that disappoints him throughout. You work so hard on certain individuals throughout the year and things don’t turn out your way, sure it gets frustrating. It’s not due to a lack of trying. I can assure you that. But that’s probably a question better asked (of) Mark. We just have to provide the resources. We have to provide all the tools necessary to make it all happen. And then it’s up to the coach. We’re able to help with official visits, setting things up, transportation, all those type things as far as providing the financial resources to make it happen. So I couldn’t answer that. Mark would be able to answer that better than I.”
If next season is similar to this one, are we back here having this discussion?
“I’m not going to comment on any could-have, should-haves. You know my stance on that. Time will tell.”
Is the gesture a reflection of what is coming back next season versus what Fox has done over last few years?
“Well, I think it’s the culmination of five years of work. Mark’s first contract was a six-year deal, right? Well, we’re entering that point in time where the institution felt like that was the right amount of time to try to turn things around. That’s why Mark Fox was brought to the University of Georgia. I would think anybody would hope when Mark signed his first contract that at the end of that six-year period that we’re competing at a high level. We competed at a high level this year. Not as high as we wanted to, but still, the record shows the performance of the team this year. Now we just need to start stacking success upon success. I’m sure we’ll be picked high. I’m sure our fans are thinking that we’re going to be about where we are next year, maybe improving. I think everybody looks at that. I’m sure if you ask all the players, yeah, they expect to get better. They expect to work hard during the off-season and get ready for next season and play a really, really tough schedule.”
What else was agreed to with this deal?
“We just talked in broad terms of the financial piece of it. But that’s not the story for today. We haven’t really focused on that part a good deal. We’ve got some clearances that we need to clear internally. But we thought it was important to go ahead with the recruiting and everything that’s in place that we go ahead and do it at this time.”
On same page as financials?
“Yes, we are.”
“I think it’ll be an addendum.”
“I’m not talking about any of the financial. We’ve got some other hurdles to clear – not hurdles internally with me and Mark – but we’ve just got to go through the process with members of our board, things of that nature.”
Two SEC teams are playing in Final Four of SEC but Georgia was not competitive against them this season. Is that an indication of the gap?
“You’ve got to look at where we played them. They’re both on the road. Next year we’ll have really every power team in the conference coming to the coliseum. It’s hard to judge. Kentucky doesn’t lose many games at home and Tennessee as we know doesn’t lose many games at Thomson-Boling Arena so I think it’s unfair to judge it on that one game. We did play Kentucky in Atlanta obviously and it was a lot better than it was in Lexington. You can’t make a judgment on that until you get them in our place and we know how well we play at home and it obviously made a huge difference in some games this year. We were able to win at home but we just didn’t have an opportunity to play them, Florida, Kentucky or Tennessee at home this year.”
On being at Florida when it hired Billy Donovan?
“There’s risk in every hire. There was risk in talking to Billy Donovan, who had been in Huntington (W.Va.) for what, a couple of years at Marshall? There was a risk there. It’s played out pretty well. But people do think that it’s easy to do because others do it, but it’s very difficult to do because of the type of person Billy is and what he'[s been able to do at Florida, it just doesn’t happen everywhere. You can look throughout college football and college basketball … it’s very difficult to do. But when you make that right decision it really pays big dividends down the road.”
When made up mind …
“Yeah, after the NIT tournament. You wait until the end of the year, that’s what you do. You obviously keep up with it during the year. You look at things. But that’s why you don’t jump into decisions and make decisions halfway through the year. I certainly wasn’t going to say anything during the season to mess things up. .. It’s better for the AD to just be quiet. Don’t mess it up. I didn’t want to insert myself into an area that needed no comment at that time. things were rolling in a fine fashion and I just didn’t want to get in the way.
On his interaction with Fox during season ….
“We approached the season just like any other season. You’re around the program, you’re at the games, you’re at the tournament. You’re around the program as much as you can be, but you don’t want to start acting differently all the sudden just because you might be struggling at the beginning or having success at the end. You try to be consistent with all your coaches and at the end of the year you deal with what you’ve got to deal with.”
On “very high” statement and NCAA tourney…
“Yeah, yeah, I think if you ask anybody that follows our program, if you ask our teams or our coaches, absolutely, that’s our ultimate goal, to get in the show. And if that wasn’t our objective why are we even playing the game. If you ask our players or ask our coaches or our fans, absolutely. Is that the final determining factor? There’s a lot of things that come into play. So you never go to a coach and say ‘this has to happen or else you’re gone.’ You can’t have that conversation. There are so many factors to go into decisions. And I think it pretty much handcuffs a coach, too. It’s just very difficult to work in an environment if you put out those kinds of demands before the season.”
On discussions with Jere Morehead ….
“He and I stay in touch often. He and I discuss things back and forth. So I make sure my boss is informed.”
Attendance, the general admission NIT.
“Oh we’ve got a group of staff that are working on some options internally, on how we can capture that enthusiasm that was in Stegeman for those two NIT games. Is there some way that we can develop that general admission atmosphere. I’m not sure where that leads us. But we’re certainly going to look at it and see if there are some options we can do to kind of mirror that enthusiasm for this coming season. Because as everybody noticed it made a huge difference. I mean we’re down 26 points to Louisiana Tech, the crowd, if that crowd wasn’t fully engaged in that game and didn’t want Georgia to win they would have left at halftime. But I think you saw a group in there that stuck behind our team, motivated them. What’d we do, cut it to four? So that made a huge difference. Those two crowds, I’d probably say Ole Miss was pretty comparable to that. But everybody that was there saw what that type of atmosphere did to encourage our players and get everybody excited about the game.”
It might help to have Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida come in …
“It helps, no question. It helps your season tickets. We’ve got Missouri coming in, we’ve got Arkansas. I think every team that was in the upper half of the league is coming in next year. And we don’t return some of those games, I’d have to look at the schedule. But we know they’re coming to Stegeman next year. So it should be a great home schedule, with Seton Hall, Colorado, those conference games. Tech on the road. Frank and Mark are working on some other games that we can do. So we’ve got the type of team that needs to play a really tough schedule because of our experience coming back.”