It’s up to Fox to change perceptions

Athens – To Damon Evans’ credit, he did not introduce Georgia’s new basketball coach Friday as, “My first choice all along,” because he probably figured everybody knew otherwise.

Jeff Capel stayed at Oklahoma. Mike Anderson stayed at Missouri. Evans might have tried to sell both that Georgia was some step up, the land of great potential, the sleeping beast of the Southeast. And they probably looked at him like you would look at Mrs. Paul’s if the company suddenly decided to open a fresh seafood restaurant.

Georgia basketball has been fish sticks for too long. If this program is destined to be anything but that, it was going to take a coach whose name you didn’t have to Google to prove otherwise.

“People want the big name,” Evans said Friday after his first significant coaching hire as athletic director. “People want somebody who is going to win the press conference. I want to win basketball games. I want the person who can make that happen.”

Mark Fox had everybody on their feet at Nevada. If he can do the same in Athens, the Bulldogs will be just fine.

Mark Fox got everybody's attention at Nevada. His challenge is doing the same at Georgia.

Mark Fox wasn’t the first choice. That doesn’t mean he won’t turn out to be the perfect choice. Everything on the resume says success. He recruited from an office in the relative dead lands of Reno, yet he won 123 games with three NCAA tournament appearances in five years. He is young, smart and passionate. He is regarded highly enough in basketball circles to have been rumored for past openings at Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arizona State and Kansas State.

The man is so driven, he missed the birth of his daughter, Olivia (now 6) because he was trying to sign a player. He later reasoned that he had the rest of life to spend with his daughter. The guard, he’d have for only four years.

But his relative anonymity in this part of the country, his coaching roots coming in the WAC – isn’t Winnipeg in that conference? – and his lack of ties to the state’s rich recruiting base explains the absence of confetti on Broad Street.

Fox said he can’t worry about that.

“I’m just here to make sure the kids are on the same page and playing the right way,” he said. “If we do that and have success, the rest will take care of itself.”

You wanted to think, “Wow!” not ask, “Who?” But this is where Georgia is. That doesn’t necessarily project more doom. Bruce Pearl went to Tennessee. Trent Johnson went to LSU. Basketball in Knoxville and Baton Rouge are no longer afterthoughts. Or punch lines.

You wanted marquee value. You wanted somebody who would slow state recruits from running to the border. But Jeff Capel? He probably sees his next office as closer to Durham than Athens.

Results change perceptions.

“You have to make your program relevant so kids will want to play here,” he said. “We have to earn that respect.”

He believes he can win here. He has spoken to Tubby Smith and Jim Harrick. He laughed when asked if his 8-year-old son, Parker, also will teach a class on the principles of basketball.

“No. He could pass that test, though,” he said.

He can’t give a timeline for success. He’s barely seen the roster. But the ceiling? There isn’t one.

“I can’t tell you we’re going to be in the Final Four in two years,” he said. “But this is a job where you should be able to compete for a championship.”

Do that, and next time this job will be an easy sell.

Jeff Schultz, fighting to stay relevant with peeps under 40, can be reached via email (jschultz@ajc.com), Facebook, Tweeter (SchultzAJC) or carrier pigeon (make a right off 400).

102 comments Add your comment

TROTTINGHOMETUDD

April 3rd, 2009
4:22 pm

didn’t even read your article SChULTZIE you sux and so does your company

GBRAVE

April 3rd, 2009
4:26 pm

I’m glad it wasn’t Capel. The guy from VCU that went to Alabama would have been better than Capel. Like everyone else i had never heard of this guy. Good luck coach, hope it goes well.

FLDAWG

April 3rd, 2009
4:29 pm

When Fox competes for championships, we might not have to sell the job for a long time. Good luck Coach Fox and GO Dawgs!!!

Alex

April 3rd, 2009
4:31 pm

I think he might be a perfect hire for Georgia as well, but missing the birth of child for your job doesn’t impress me. And the “I have the rest of my life to be with my daughter” reasoning I don’t think plays out, because you’ve already shown what’s more important to you. And last time I checked, while his daughter may not remember who was there on the day she was born, you can bet his wife will always remember him not being there.
Nobody’s perfect and I appreciate the point that he is committed to what he’s doing and I hope he has great success, but sacrificing family for vocation isn’t worth it.

Hamp McWhorter

April 3rd, 2009
4:33 pm

Jeff-

The article is 100% correct…as with any hire, only time will tell.

Just an interesting tidbit, with the hiring of Coach Fox, only 1 current head coach of a men’s sport at UGA had prior head coaching experience before taking his job at UGA…Mark Fox.

Mac

April 3rd, 2009
4:34 pm

Give him a chance, I say. He can’t be any worse than Felton (who, by the way left the cupboard more bare than he found it, which was pretty bad). Let’s sit back and see what the boy can do.

Jeff, I think you and your company are both dandy. Don’t let ol’ Tudd(?) get you down.

Coach Fox

April 3rd, 2009
4:35 pm

I’ll tell you, like I told the whiners on the other “dawg blawg”, I am happy to be the UGA basketball coach!

From my perspective this is a win-win situation. Georgia is a hotbed of recruiting bball talent, I’m getting paid more, and there is no where for “y’all” to go but up. So quit your bitching and I’ll see what I can do to turn this sh*t mixer around.

Coach Fox

yellowblood

April 3rd, 2009
4:37 pm

We continue to beat UGAG and hold wonderful Tickle Piles!!!

shannon

April 3rd, 2009
4:38 pm

Good hire for various reasons. 1) Mike Anderson couldn’t be helped-he turned memphis down too-it wasn’t just UGA. 2) Grant will be the next UF coach when Donovan leaves. 3) This guy put 4 players into the NBA from Nevada!! Surely the state of Georgia can produce some players for him. 4) Even Felton got very good players, they just didn’t stick around: Mercer, Humphrey, Takais brown, Singleton, etc. If this guy can get those same type players and they stick around, we are a 21-8 type team, sweet 16 or so. 5) Next season he had a commitment from the #8 player in the nation. To come to Nevada??????? Compare to trey Thompkins, #10 in his class. I feel confident this coach can get us 1-2 four stars per season, and 1-2 three star types enough to give us tournament appearances.

Einstein

April 3rd, 2009
4:39 pm

Thanks Jeff, for a good read. I am glad we were able to get a Mark Fox, as a “big name” coach would have only used us for a stepping stone for his next $$$ contract. A young, smart, and energetic coach should be able to tap into our in-state talent and be very competitive in a few years…just like CMK in football. I also thought Felton was the right hire; however, Western Ky just seems to win regardless of their coach. Good luck Coach Fox and GO DAWGS!!!!!! Peace.

Wynn

April 3rd, 2009
4:40 pm

Again, it looks like the Fox and the hounds (dawgs). Go Dawgs!!

TROTTINGHOMETUDD

April 3rd, 2009
4:41 pm

of course there is always an uncle tom showing up.

Hi mac

Rabun Dawg

April 3rd, 2009
4:41 pm

Not exactly a household name, but I think we should all get behind the man and support this hire and try to get UGA basketball to the point of being relevant! I personally had hoped for a bigger name, but, after all UGA has not exactly been on the front stage of the Bball world. Maybe with some decent fan support, Bball can be relevant for a change. Winning can cure a lot of ills! I for one will go over to the Stegasaurus to see his first edition some. Good luck to Coach Fox, and welcome to all his family to Athens and the state of Georgia!!

Steve

April 3rd, 2009
4:43 pm

Good move, he’s fiery, but next year could be ugly…

TROTTINGHOMETUDD

April 3rd, 2009
4:44 pm

this is recycled material from yesterday.

HE ain;t even spoke to the man

TROTTINGHOMETUDD

April 3rd, 2009
4:46 pm

Where’s Uncle Tom Terrence

HH

April 3rd, 2009
4:47 pm

Let’s be realistic. There is no where to go but up for this guy. He can’t make the situation worse than it already is. If he works out, fine; if he doesn’t, they will just get rid of him and start all over like they did with Felton. The only difference will be that Damon won’t be the one conducting the search. He will be gone out the door too.

blue fox

April 3rd, 2009
4:53 pm

And just think, Tech fans would have LOVED to give Paul Hewitt to UGA for a song.

Dr. Evil

April 3rd, 2009
4:58 pm

the main 2 things Fox had going for him were that he’d take the job, and he’ll do what the administration tell him to do. There was no need to make this decision now. we could’ve had him anytime we wanted. Just shows no one cares about being at the barn and competing against Calipari, Donovan, etc. Our basketball program will continue to be a laughing stock for another 3-4 years until we try to bring someone better in. I just hope Tech sticks with Hewitt as long!

DawgGirl32

April 3rd, 2009
5:04 pm

Great article, Jeff. Let the guy coach a few games before we make judgements. I think given the situation we were in that it was a great hire. I remember when Mike Smith was named the new head coach of the Falcons and people had a similar reaction. NOBODY knew who he was and that turned out pretty well, didn’t it?

LawDawg86

April 3rd, 2009
5:27 pm

Alex … “you can bet his wife will always remember him not being there.”

I am guessing when he landed that $9 million contract last week, his wife forgave him for not being in the delivery room. You think?

kauai dawg

April 3rd, 2009
5:31 pm

With FOX being our coach will the assistants be Bill O’reily and Sean Hannity?

AltamahaDawg

April 3rd, 2009
5:35 pm

I am borrowing this line from another source, but its worth sharing. UGA wasnt going to find it’s Billy Donavan out there right now. What UGA needed right now was to find it’s Lon Kruger.

Ed

April 3rd, 2009
5:44 pm

I don’t know, a guy who averaged nearly 25 wins a year at Nevada might know a little something about basketball.

It couldn’t have been easy to lure talent to Reno, what with its remote location and notoriously wacky Sheriff’s Department…

esaun

April 3rd, 2009
5:48 pm

UGA’s basketball problem is not incompetent coaching it is more their inability to to receive any interest from the state’s top talent. This hire, while Fox may can coach does nothing to fix this. Wonder if someone at UGA pissed off the big wigs in Ga. AAU ball. Only winner today was the search firm UGA hired.

WOW!

April 3rd, 2009
6:04 pm

I sure UGA just couldn’t wait until after Final Four to pick its head coach! This is hilarious! It’s clear UGA supports its college football program over the b-ball. A six year, $7M+ deal??? LOL!
And Nevada!!! Of course you can get talent to an institution if you promise good HS players with 3-digt SAT scores a chance. UGA’s only problem is keeping in state players here and from the NBA for at least 2 years. Josh Smith rather go to the NBA, along with Dwight Howard, and Louis Williams. And with Favors committed to Tech, at least one GA institution is a win!

RJS

April 3rd, 2009
6:09 pm

High School basketball is a national sport, heck, watch the Nike Hoop Summit on April 11th- it’s an international sport. The top kids play in AAU and HS tournaments across the country. A good coach can recruit anywhere in the US. Plus, Reno ain’t Vegas- he’s been doing something right the past 5 years.

Dan

April 3rd, 2009
6:14 pm

I actually like this hire. Given the state of UGA basketball, it was unrealistic to expect the likes of Jeff Capel to be our coach. But Fox seems to have drive and apparently recruits well even in the hinterlands of the hinterland known as Nevada, and he can clearly coach well, piling up wins in the WAC, which is not a garbage conference. Dennis Felton could coach but ultimately couldn’t compete with the big boys on the recruiting trail. I am excited to see what Fox can do with our great in-state talent. If he recruits well, the turnaround could be as little as 2 years, guys.

Good job, Evans.

NCDawg

April 3rd, 2009
6:24 pm

Geez Tudd, for some one who doesn’t like Jeff or his company, you sure spend enough time on their site.

Anderson would have been good, but Fox will work. Currently UGA has one 3* commit, Nevada has 2. I wonder if any of his left coast recruits will follow him east.

Lash La Rue

April 3rd, 2009
6:25 pm

Give Fox 2 or 3 years and all you crying fans will be glad you got him.

Hell, UGA is Lucky…you could be stuck with Paul Hewitt!!!

Lane Kiffin.

April 3rd, 2009
6:28 pm

Maybe this will take the heat off me for being the dumbest hire in the SEC this year.

Endymion

April 3rd, 2009
6:32 pm

I think this guy will get UGA winning again. But throw up a wall around GA and get the great GA HS players to stay home? He says he’s counting on hiring some assistants that know the area. So now we’re counting on some assistants to win recruiting wars with Louisville, Kentucky and everywhere else GA players have been going to? Doesn’t sound like a successful plan. I’ll just hope for another Hugh Durham level of winning (which was better than any other time in UGA basketball) but not expect many Final Fours.

Sensible Dawg

April 3rd, 2009
6:36 pm

Plan A was to go after Anderson and/or Capel. That wasn’t going to work because those guys were not going to leave a good program and go to a Georgia program that was in disarray. Mark Fox is a good Plan B hire. He’s got a 74% winning record and has been conference coach of the year 3 times I believe. He’s a good up and coming coach and realistically that was the best we could do. I’m liking this guy more and more. He’s got a lot of work to do but if he can recruit he will do well. We already know that he can win.

Da Hood

April 3rd, 2009
6:41 pm

So the George Constanza-look a like got a six year contract and the man who made it to the Elite eight couldn’t get seven? Damon is Uncle Tom to his Massa Michael Adams.

doyle

April 3rd, 2009
7:00 pm

Damon is a “damn good Dawg” and with this being his 1st big hire, I am positive he gave it due diligence. Give them both a break and let’s see what happens 2 years from now. If I remember correctly, it was after the 2nd year “The Tub” turned blue(grass). If Tubby could turn it around in 2 years, then Fox should at least be able to show progress. Patience is a virtue!

Richard Hall

April 3rd, 2009
7:07 pm

Interesting to say the least. The BULLDOGS will be coached by a FOX! The odds are that this is going to prove to be a fantastic hire. Good work, Damon Evans. GO DAWGS!!!

esaun

April 3rd, 2009
7:33 pm

Fox was a great choice no lofty expectations in Athens anyway. 15-16 wins a year, tourney every 3 years and all is well. GA sports attitude overall real lax; celebrate anything. Pro sports teams get parades for 2nd place and coaches get praise for winning conferences (or 1 side of the conference). Calipari saw only 1 kind of banner hanging the rafters of Rump, while the Tide base call for your head even if you won the SEC before. So good job Evans

SANTA DAWG

April 3rd, 2009
7:36 pm

GIVE THE GUY A CHANCE. IF HE DON`T WIN, I PERSONALLY WILL BUY HIM A BUS TICKET TO ATLANTA, BECAUSE BY THAT TIME GA. YUCK WILL HAVE GOTTEN TIRED OF HEWITT.

he's a winner

April 3rd, 2009
7:42 pm

He won at Nevada with as a head coach with players he had recruited as an assistant. When Jones left Nevada to go to LSU, Fox stepped in and they didn’t miss a beat. Nice hire, albeit unexpected.
Fox’s Hounds…nice ring to it

Rod

April 3rd, 2009
7:49 pm

Mark Fox will be to UGA as Urban Meyer is to Florida.

Red GA Dawg

April 3rd, 2009
7:55 pm

Calling all DAWGS! Get over your thoughts of woulda, coulda and why not! This is the hand we are dealt and now is time for us to do our part. For those who complain about the cow barn (I showed cows behind the Steg in high school) buy season tixs, if you don’t use them give them to someone! We will not get a better facility until enough of us loyal fans make the drive to fill the Coliseum. I am committed to doing my part, ask yourself are you?

Whopper Dawg

April 3rd, 2009
8:02 pm

After an initial negative reaction to the hire, I am warming to it. I never thought the Anderson or Capel would come and I really didn’t want either for various reasons. I did want a good strong run at Grant though and I don’t think that happened. I think that part of the reaction to this hire is due to the expectations that Evans created – i.e. We are going to spend and do whatever it takes to hire the right person for get the UGA basketball program where it should be (among the elite programs). Then he hires Fox who is very obscure with no ties to the region. Mr. Evans needs a couple of lessons on how to handle creating expectations from the master, Vince Dooley. That being said, Fox seems OK, but he really has his work cut out for him.

Diamond Dawg

April 3rd, 2009
8:28 pm

I agree give the guy a fair chance. Next year very well could be another disaster, but within the next three years we should be up and rollin a little. The bulldog nation needs to actually show up at the games though. Recruits want to go to a school with a good atmoshpere.

ToccoaDawg

April 3rd, 2009
8:40 pm

I supported the Traitor while he was here. I supported Coach Felton while he was here. And I will support Coach Fox. Besides Fox Dawgs has a nice ring to it.

Jeff Schultz

April 3rd, 2009
9:02 pm

For what it’s worth, my early impressions of Fox are positive. He handled the media situation today at the press conference great. When a sports information director came by to break up a post-press conference scrum, Fox — who was supposed to break away to do TV one-on-ones — turned to us and said, ‘I want to make sure these guys have all they need.’ I think he understands that there’s skeptics. But he’s confident in his abilities and I have a good feeling about him. We’ll see. Also, for what’s it’s worth, I never pre-judge coaches.You can go back and look at every column I’ve ever written at a coach’s introductory press conference — Mike Smith, Jim Mora, Bobby Petrino, Paul Johnson, etc. — and I’ve never written, “This guy will be great” or “This guy will be awful.” The fact is, none of us know. I can comment on the hiring process and perceptions and my feelings about how the coach handled day one, but that’s about it. We’ll see how this plays out. But I think everybody should realize that Georgia isn’t a quick fix.
Thanx
Jeff

Nevada Wolf Pack

April 3rd, 2009
9:16 pm

Coach Fox is a fiery guy who has been known to lose his temper at times. But maybe that’s just what the Dr. ordered for your floundering hoops program. A guy that can light a fire under arses. Along with that he runs a tight ship. His kids have respect for him.
He does actually have some recruiting ties to the south. One example is Ramon Sessions who is currently doing pretty well with the Milwaukee Bucks. We got him from South Carolina along with another current Pack player Malik Cooke.
Best of luck to Coach Fox and the Georgia Bulldogs.
P.S. Reno, NV. isn’t such the barren wasteland some of you think it is. Ever heard of Lake Tahoe 45 mins. up into the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains? It’s a great place to call home.

greg

April 3rd, 2009
9:20 pm

Anyone of you who has been to any games the past few years should remember Mark Fox bringing a team to Athens in 2004 or 2005.Those rosters weren’t that different, but those in attendance saw what a disciplined, precise, good rebounding team looked like,and they wore blue , not red and black.

Jeff Schultz

April 3rd, 2009
9:22 pm

Nevada — I used to live out there. Don’t compare Lake Tahoe to Reno. They’re like different planets to me — one I’d love to live on (Tahoe), the other no so much. And yes I love the Sierras. Our daughter is named after them. (”Sierra”, not “Nevada.”)

Jeff Schultz

April 3rd, 2009
9:25 pm

By the way, one thing I thought was kind of amusing today: The Fox family — coach, wife, two kids — all were complete outfitted in Georgia gear already — tie, jackets, shirts, pins. They all looked like mannequins from the bookstore. Must’ve stopped in there before going to the press conference. I imagine they had a line of credit.

Henry

April 3rd, 2009
9:27 pm

Please remember all the skeptics when the Falcons hired Mike Smith. He was not a big name coach.