If you don’t believe at Georgia, get out of Mark Fox’s way

A three-year plan? No. Mark Fox doesn't accept that Georgia can't win now. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

A three-year plan? Why? Mark Fox doesn't accept that Georgia can't win now. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

ATHENS — In the spring, a player asked Mark Fox, “Do you really think we can win?” and for a moment he was stunned. No player had ever asked him that before.

In the first week of school,  Fox made his team runs steps in Sanford Stadium in the heat of August, punishment for blown tutoring sessions and, he said, “being undisciplined.”

First road trip? Three players forgot their shoes.

“Three guys left their sneakers in Athens,” Fox said. “We go to practice the night before the UAB game and I’m like: What’s the deal here? It was embarrassing. We had the team manager who hadn’t traveled  with us bring the shoes  with him the day of the game. I was like, ‘OK, now I know why we’re having some issues here.’”

These are the little reality checks for the new Georgia basketball coach. When a program generally is synonymous with apathy and misery, interrupted by the occasional 20-win season and tornado-aided conference championship, inheriting problems are expected. You would just hope that everybody remembers their shoes and that players believe in the concept of winning basketball games as much as the coach does.

Mark Fox believes. His hope is that others soon will follow — players, fans, media. If early results are any indication, they will. The Bulldogs are only 8-8. They’re winless in three SEC games, with eighth-ranked Tennessee coming to Athens Saturday. But we’ve already seen wins over Georgia Tech and  Illinois, and one of those near shock-the-world upsets at Kentucky.

Fox is doing this with a Fisher Price toolbox in a power tool world. He inherited neither players nor a winning culture in Athens. You scream, “Georgia basketball!” and if somebody appears to scream it back, it’s really only an echo in Stegeman Coliseum.

If this was all about Xs-and-Os, it would be easy. Fox handled that just fine at Nevada: 123-43 and three NCAA appearances in five seasons. He knows it’s about more than that at Georgia. He has spoken to Tubby Smith. He has spoken to Dennis Felton. He has spoken to Jim Harrick. (Fortunately, he had all of his shots first.)

Chances are, he”ll find success. He finally has what his predecessors didn’t: an apparent commitment of the athletic department to devote resources to something other than football. When “football” schools like Florida and Texas and Tennessee can win in basketball, it ends all of those it-can’t-be-done here debates.

But there is a lot baggage to overcome first. Fox’s greatest hurdle?

“The stigma,” he said. “We have to change the perception of Georgia basketball in the minds of young people — and in the minds of everybody. I expected we’d have to do that. We have to accept the term, ‘rebuilding.’ We can’t run from that term. I’ve told our team, it doesn’t have to be a two-year plan or a three-year plan. They can do it faster. We control that. My kids watch that show every Sunday night where they rebuild a house in a week ["Extreme Makeover"] . Our players have to realize, ‘They can do it faster.’”

They look at the final score. He says, “We’re making progress.”

They look at the standings, he says,  “We’re 0-3, not 0-10.”

They look at the half-empty stands. He slaps them around a little.

“The kids have to understand that you don’t play hard just because the arena’s full,” he said. “This is part of the process. You have to earn their respect back. Once we get this rebuilt, there will be a home court advantage. But we have to earn that back.”

When he got the job, he asked every player why they came to Georgia. Most talked about the school, or Athens, or proximity to their home.

Only one mentioned winning basketball games.

Now when Fox recruits, he wants every player to say they’re coming to Georgia to win.

“I didn’t hear that enough when I came here,” he said.

One issue resolved.

Two, if you count that nobody has forgotten their shoes since the Alabama-Birmingham trip.

154 comments Add your comment

Billy Ray Valentine....Capricorn

January 21st, 2010
3:13 pm

First? That would be a first.

Dawglasville

January 21st, 2010
3:14 pm

We’ve got the right guy. Can we keep him?

Without-a-clue

January 21st, 2010
3:19 pm

I’m not a basketball fan. But, Fox could make me one.

UGA 2010

January 21st, 2010
3:19 pm

Third, could of been first if i cared…..

UGA 2010

January 21st, 2010
3:19 pm

good article either way Jeff…

Bob Horner had sweet compact swing

January 21st, 2010
3:22 pm

nice write up Jeff…Fox is doing a great job..the Dawgs will win some games this year…the future looks bright

Bryan G.

January 21st, 2010
3:23 pm

I like Fox’s attitude. Unlike under Felton, the team seems to get better each and every game. The last 4 games they have played extremely well against some extremely good teams. I hope they continue to get better. The jury is still out, but the early returns are promising.

Gordon

January 21st, 2010
3:24 pm

He can obviously coach.

If he can recruit (Tubby Smith), he will be successful and go somewhere else when UGA fans don’t support the team or someone like Kentucky or Memphis come calling.

If he can’t recruit (Dennis Felton), he’ll either be fired or go somewhere where he can.

Not enough UGA fans care. Even during good times, they only fill up the place against teams like Kentucky.

Ryan S

January 21st, 2010
3:27 pm

Tornado aided? If you call having to play two games in one day being an advantaged…when it was the 2nd teams first game.

Socal Dawg

January 21st, 2010
3:28 pm

I hope he stays.

Roundball

January 21st, 2010
3:32 pm

All Coach Fox needs is time, support, and players (which he will get)…

NewnanDawg

January 21st, 2010
3:32 pm

I’m really sick of articles about the bball program in Athens with absolutely no research. The commitment from the AD to bball started long before Coach Fox arrived. Have you forgotten about the $30M practice facility we just built a couple of years ago? Or have you just never actually set foot in it to know anything about it? Did you know about the fact that vast renovations to the Steg are in the capital investment plans for the next few years? You don’t just throw those in. That is long term planning. No players? Trey Thompkins could have gone anywhere and Coach Fox is quickly proving we have other players; they just needed a good coach. Thin, especially off the bench – yes, but no players sounds just plain uninformed. How are players supposed to believe they can win if so called journalists keep saying they have no talent?

Ok – got that off my chest – now, the good news. This Saturday’s game against UT is already the closest we have come to a sellout in a long time, and might be one by game day. Coach Fox is putting a very entertaining brand of bball on the floor; if you haven’t been to a game, I highly suggest it. I’m excited for this team and coach and look forward to the rest of the season.

Go Dawgs!

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Alan Ashley, Jeff Schultz. Jeff Schultz said: If you don’t believe at Georgia, get out of Mark Fox’s way: A three-year plan? Why? Mark Fox doesn't accept that G… http://bit.ly/7uaxid [...]

NewnanDawg

January 21st, 2010
3:36 pm

Ryan S – thanks for pointing out another idiotic remark in this article.

Gordon – FYI, there is this cool thing called “optimism” which might make you a happier person. If you are just a rival fan hoping we fail, just say it instead of trying to make people think you just truly believe the program can’t succeed.

Go Dawgs!

SLP

January 21st, 2010
3:37 pm

So far so good. Will he make Tubby a long lost memory?

georgedawg

January 21st, 2010
3:37 pm

Dawg fans – this Fox guy is a winner through and through – plus he’s a great guy – he can recruit. Let’s go to the home games and create a great college basketball experience and home court advantage and a recruiting advantage. Stegman, which was there when I went to school, may not be as impressive as some other SEC schools – it doesn’t matter. Screaming butts in the seats and enviorment do. Fox can do everything else. Lets arrange some caravaning from somewhere in Gwinnett and support these dawgs. Any ideas about getting this together please comment. I’ll devote some time to organizing. Attendence is all he needs and we’ll be dancing in a year or two. Go DAWGS!!!

Frist

January 21st, 2010
3:37 pm

Thanks Newnan Dawg. There are no cows there, either. But uninformed know-it-alls continue to bash it as if there were.

Clarence Beaks

January 21st, 2010
3:37 pm

Looking good Billy Ray. Feeling good Louis.

augustadawg

January 21st, 2010
3:41 pm

The commitment to basketball is there. I toured the facilities before the Ole Miss game with an assistant coach and they are second to none. Stegeman will undergo a major facelift as soon as the season ends this year and will be totally transformed by next season. Coach Fox absolutely can coach this game and when he gets a few more players in, he will be dangerous. I wouldn’t count this team out yet as the weaker part of the schedule is the 2nd half and they get better each week. They might be able to really make some noise by SEC tournament time. We are 12th in the nation in strength of schedule at this point with the # 8 team coming in Saturday.

NewnanDawg

January 21st, 2010
3:48 pm

George and Augusta – we need more of you. If I can drive from Newnan for every home game, I put it on you George; you can get some folks that only have to go from Gwinnett County.

FYI – If you haven’t seen some of Coach Fox’s tweets @coachmarkfox, he has a great sense of humor in just the right amount mixed with some more serious comments.

Go Dawgs!

gdawginkalamazoo

January 21st, 2010
3:48 pm

It all starts with discipline which UGA hasn’t seen since Tubby was there. Looks like Fox has the kids believing and playing hard. Of course I don’t expect overnight miracles but looks like he is energetic enough to get the job done. Good luck to him and the team. I do keep up with the basketball program and it exciting to see the team competing in the big games. ALthough there have been some setbacks (Wofford, UAB) I think Fox will do well on the recruiting trail.

Wolfdawg

January 21st, 2010
3:49 pm

Thanks Jeff nice article. I like what Fox is doing. Mabye this discipline will rub off on the Football team because they see each other alot.

Gordon

January 21st, 2010
3:50 pm

I’m sorry, Newnandawg. You’re right.

I think UGA will win the national championship next year! 50 years of results be damned!

By the way, substitute “Fox” with “Felton” and you will have the exact same posts from 2004.

Happily yours,

Gordon

Burdell

January 21st, 2010
3:51 pm

Looks like the Dawgs have a good man coaching the basketball team in Athens. Good luck on Saturday with the Vols.

GO JACKETS!

NewnanDawg

January 21st, 2010
3:51 pm

Starring……… – So correct; I usually don’t even come to this blog because JS kind of reminds me of KO (you can figure out who KO is, someone doing sports and polititcs, both arrogantly and irresponsibly)

NewnanDawg

January 21st, 2010
3:57 pm

Gordon – I don’t believe anyone said anything about NCs. They are simply getting better and being competitive for a change. And no, I never saw Felton develop guys like Travis, Ricky,and Chris the way Coach Fox is doing. Felton also never embraced the fan base the way Fox has until he thought it might save his job in the end. I don’t really blame him; it just wasn’t his personality. The thing that excited people about Felton was simply that Harrick was gone.

NewnanDawg

January 21st, 2010
3:58 pm

Oh and Gordon, I said optimism, not delusions.

Larry

January 21st, 2010
3:59 pm

Coach Fox is for real. UGA certainly isn’t a basketball school but since Dooley’s last SEC title in 82, Georgia has won more SEC championships in basketball ( 1983, 1990, 2008) than they have in football ( 2002 and 2005).

kydawg

January 21st, 2010
4:01 pm

The Dawgs are competitive in every game…it’s almost like they get to the last 3 minutes and say “hey, we’re not supposed to win this”…and they figure out how to blow up.

The talent they have is being “coached up” and I believe they will win some this year (killer schedule) I believe Fox will stay at UGA and make it a winner…I think he will appreciate the opportunity and “vision” that Evans showed in bringing him here. Face it…we all questioned this hire and we’re all eating our words…and I’m glad he’s here. GO DAWGS!!!

LazySam

January 21st, 2010
4:05 pm

Quit complaining about Stegman! Who wants to pay more for a ticket to a new arena if the product is terrible? Attendance will be worse.

Duke plays in a dump and it’s call one of the best environments in college basketball.

Nobody calls the Dean Dome an intimidating place and it’s a top of the line arena.

augustadawg

January 21st, 2010
4:05 pm

It is sad GA has not been one of the best 64 teams in college basketball except in a few years. I am not expecting a national championship next year, but I would like to see us be a consistent tournament team and maybe make some headlines every once in a while. I think that Coach Fox will do that for us and probably sooner rather than later.

Starring Kam Fong as Chin Ho

January 21st, 2010
4:09 pm

NewnanDawg, nice comparison. And both are equally entertaining……not

Dap01

January 21st, 2010
4:11 pm

Good article. I agree, Fox is going to be a fine coach.

bball

January 21st, 2010
4:15 pm

Its obvious by watching them play that they play with more heart and husle now. We’ve been in most every game thus far. Lets get out there and support these guys and Fox at home!!!!!

EW

January 21st, 2010
4:19 pm

JS, really enjoyed this read. Fox seems to be the right man for the job.

UGAFan

January 21st, 2010
4:21 pm

Gordon, you obviously haven’t seen the BB team play yet this year. Fox is brilliant, can really his players up, and already has this team already running the complicated triangle offense pretty good. They’re gonna make some noise this year …

people starting to care

January 21st, 2010
4:31 pm

GW

January 21st, 2010
4:34 pm

Can’t judge Fox by wins this year. Judge him by how many underclassmen are still on the roster next season. If they all are still there plus a couple of guards 10-11 will be a good season.

timthebrave

January 21st, 2010
4:37 pm

Let me first say that I watch georgia basketball but not any other teams unless it’s march madness. This guy sounds like a winner and that they got the right guy to help build this program. Go dawgs!

Dr. Phil

January 21st, 2010
4:43 pm

Mark Fox may turn out to be a good coach, but last time I looked, UGA was in last place. Talk of championships is premature.

Thirty Points to your Twenty-Four Points

January 21st, 2010
4:46 pm

Just a reminder………..

(((((73-66)))))

The Dawgs may not be playing many big games in March this year, but we are still STATE CHAMPS!!!!

OH!!!! and before I forget………. (((((30-24))))) !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

J dubb

January 21st, 2010
4:58 pm

I really don’t get the constant bashing of Jeff Shultz and Mark Bradley. Surely you understand they are paid to (post) write entertaining articles based on facts. They’re not paid to pump out Anderson Cooper-like, Katrina journalism that is supposed to make everyone dwell on their articles for a few days after.

They poke fun at everyone’s teams once in awhile. Grow some hair on your b@!!$ – you can’t love him when he writes flattering stuff about your team and then bash him with abusive insults when he pokes at your team every now and then.

For those of us Dawgs who arent in the know, or haven’t been given a nice tour, this article provided plenty of insight for a short blog on what CMF is up against as the BB coach.

Good blog Jeff – ignore the ra-tards (as Allen would say).

And I expect bigger and better things to come from CMF. He seems like a very good COACH. Can’t wait to see how he recruits and coaches the kids as he settles in up there in Athens!

J dubb

January 21st, 2010
5:03 pm

ASHEVILLE DAWG

January 21st, 2010
5:06 pm

Good luck Coach Fox.If the GT game means anything, you are building the base.That’s one game I saw and some of the KY game. Looks like a start.

college football

January 21st, 2010
5:10 pm

hey techie lover schultz, what was the UGA- techie score, was it 73-66…i thought so, ha,ha,ha
if only UGA was in the pathetic acc they would completely DOMINATE!!

I Run This State

January 21st, 2010
5:18 pm

Great blog dedicated solely to UGA basketball – http://hoopdawg.wordpress.com

Scout Dawg

January 21st, 2010
5:19 pm

People it is the first year! They have come a long way so far but what we are watching is this team learning how to finish: win. What a breath of fresh air! Thank you Coach Fox! We are a little jaded, but when your team gets it together we will be there! GATA DAWGS.

robodawg

January 21st, 2010
5:23 pm

Well said. Let’s pack the house for Tennessee.

Gary

January 21st, 2010
5:26 pm

I don’t think Fox will have any trouble recruiting after this season. I have watched several games on tv and these guys play hard and are in almost every game. Prospective recruits I think want to play for a coach that can inspire a team to be better than their talent. Trey is a great talent, I just hope he stays. He seems to make every one around him play better. I cant wait to see what Fox can do with a oouple of great recruiting classes, and he doesnt need to recruit outside the state to find the talent he needs.

Don

January 21st, 2010
5:33 pm

What I do believe, painfully so, is that Fox will not effectively recruit.