(UPDATED below on Tuesday, 6:50 p.m., with Mark Fox’s response to report)
Georgia is about to find out what it means to have a coveted basketball coach: Mark Fox is in the rumor mill.
The sports website SportsByBrooks is quoting sources saying Fox will be one of four top candidates targeted by North Carolina State for its impending coach vacancy. Wolfpack coach Sidney Lowe is meeting with athletic director Debbie Yow on Tuesday and many are speculating that he is going to be fired.
The four candidates listed by the website are Fox, Rick Barnes (Texas), Sean Miller (Arizona) and Tubby Smith (Minnesota).
Fox just released this statement through Georgia sports information director Claude Felton: “I’m not a candidate for any job. All of my focus is on the Georgia team.”
It’s not an emphatic, “I absolutely guarantee I will be at Georgia next season,” but it’s about what you would expect in these circumstances, especially if he wants to use another offer as leverage for a better contract.
Here’s my thought on the rumor: No way.
Fox, who in only his second year has coached the Bulldogs into the NCAA tournament, may not necessarily be a lifer at Georgia. But if he leaves, it would take a better job than North Carolina State. While the Wolfpack reportedly are willing to pay up to $3 million annually — far exceeding Fox’s current $1.3 million salary at Georgia — it’s not a program with any more potential than the one in Athens. The facilities enhancements at Georgia has elevated the stature of the basketball program, as has the SEC’s overall improved strength.
Fox’s contract also stipulates that he must pay the UGA Athletics Association a $2 million buyout if he resigns before 2015, when the contract runs through. More than likely, if an offer does come Fox’s way, he can leverage it for a raise.
Here’s an excerpt from the SportsByBrooks story:
An ACC head basketball coach told me today that Yow has been asking around for months about who she should hire as Lowe’s replacement.
From talking to several sources the past week, including one inside the N.C. State athletic department, I can confirm that – at least at the moment – Yow’s top choices for the job are Rick Barnes, Sean Miller, Tubby Smith and Mark Fox.
Yow has no shot at Barnes, and Smith is likely pining for a contract extension at Minnesota. (As he does with perpetual outside job interest every offseason.)
Though even at $3 million per, candidates like Miller and Fox are no lock for Raleigh when you saddle an uphill job with the weight of Yow’s notorious managerial reputation.
Fox may have to deal with a few more of these stories.
By Jeff Schultz