Georgia’s’ sly Mark Fox: He’s the SEC coach of the year

That big "G"? It stands for, "Great job, Coach Fox." (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

That "G" behind him? It stands for, "Great job, Coach." (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Coach of the year awards don’t always go to those who win their conferences, but seldom are they bestowed on someone who enters the final days of the regular season tied for last in a division. I speak here of Mark Fox, and he should be the exception. He should be the SEC’s coach of the year.

Georgia is 5-9 in the conference, 13-14 overall. It will play the nation’s No. 3 team in Athens tonight and the SEC’s absolute worst team in Baton Rouge on Saturday. At this late date, there’s still a chance the Bulldogs can have a winning season. When the season began, even the wildest of optimists wouldn’t have forecast as much.

My early guess was another 20-loss campaign, something that has become a Bulldog staple. (There have been three since 1999-2000, including last season.) After seeing how well Georgia played at Gwinnett in upending Illinois before Christmas, I dialed up my expectation — all the way to 13-17. With at least three games remaining, the Bulldogs already have their 13.

And it isn’t just that they’ve won more than they should have. It’s who they’ve won against. Georgia has beaten five teams — Illinois, Georgia Tech, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Florida — that should qualify for the NCAA tournament. And it isn’t just who they’ve beaten but when.

The Tech victory came three days after the Bulldogs lost by 28 points at Missouri. The Tennessee upset came after Georgia had lost three in a row by a total of 15 points. The victory over Vandy came after another three-game slide, the last of which was an overtime loss to Arkansas at home in which Georgia had led by 15 points at the half. The Florida takedown came 45 hours after the Bulldogs had wasted a five-point lead with 33 seconds remaining in Nashville.

Put simply, every time you figured Georgia had suffered the sort of crushing loss/losses that can derail a happy season, it has righted itself against an opponent of consequence. That says much about the players, but it says more about the coach. Believing hasn’t come easy for Georgia basketball since Tubby Smith left for Lexington in May 1997, but what’s happening now is the beginning of belief.

And why not? Every Bulldog has developed under this coach, some exponentially. Trey Thompkins has grown into a first-team All-SEC player, and he’s but a sophomore. Travis Leslie, also a sophomore, was just a slasher three months ago; today’s he’s one of the fastest-rising guards on any campus. As for those of lesser gifts, consider: In the upset of Tech on Jan. 5, Georgia got just 10 points from its reserves; in beating Florida on Saturday, it received 31.

With a bit more seasoning and a tad more talent, Georgia could well be fighting for NCAA tournament position. It has lost five games in which it held leads inside the final five minutes. It has been beaten by double figures in conference play only twice. (This after suffering four such losses in pre-conference games.) It has gotten better the more it has played, and it’s playing at something approximating a peak level now.

And yes, I would be disingenuous if I didn’t admit that I pretty much hated the Fox hire. But I’ve been impressed with what the man has done — how could you not? — and if he can manage to sign enough big-timers from this state I see no reason why this coach won’t have the Bulldogs in the Big Dance soon enough. He has proved what he can do with holdovers of modest portfolio; I can’t wait to see what he’d do with a team of real potential.

(And yes, I’m headed to Athens for tonight’s game against Kentucky. I’d be obliged if you’d ride along — figuratively, I mean; the VW seats only so many — for our usual live chat. The game’s at 8 p.m., but we’ll get going long before that. Join me, won’t you?)

166 comments Add your comment

Jamaaliver

March 3rd, 2010
4:08 am

I couldn’t agree more Mark.

pdawg

March 3rd, 2010
4:42 am

I smell an upset….go dawgs!!!!

TheAntiMe

March 3rd, 2010
5:25 am

Mark Fox does seem to be quite the teacher and motivator. Maybe if he agreed to help Mark Richt in that area in football then Coach Richt could help the basketball side of things with some advice to Coach Fox on recruiting? You never know?

"Chef" Tim Dix

March 3rd, 2010
5:31 am

The stanky, danky Steg has become a destination for visiting teams to squirm about since the Fox turned this rag tag bunch into a team.

Can he recruit? After this season, he might even have the luxury of being very selective.

Dawglasville

March 3rd, 2010
5:35 am

We have the right guy. Is this a spring board or does he want to be the guy who gets a building named after himself in Athens? I believe we will be hearing the, “This is my Dream Job. It’s the only place I’d leave Athens for…” speach in the next year or two. Hope not.

Go Dawgs!!!

March 3rd, 2010
6:09 am

If it weren’t for Bobo’s play calling…oops. Wrong post!

Jumped the gun on your first football article. Looking forward to it, BTW. But this was a good one for sure. Fox gets my vote and congratulations to him for a job well done.

hop

March 3rd, 2010
6:31 am

coach fox is the real deal and when the top players in the state finally realise his unique talent, the dawgs will also be known as a basketball school as well!

The American Dream

March 3rd, 2010
6:40 am

Mark you are an idiot. Fox is not the coach of the year in the SEC. You need to actually win a lot of games to be the coach of the year. I for example am the East Coast Wrestling Association manager of the year. Last year I managed three world champions, won seven matches myself, and broke the all you can eat record at the Stuckey’s Truckstop in Vidalia. Fox . . . beat that son. Now let’s get funky like a monkey.

SC Boy

March 3rd, 2010
6:40 am

He inherited a lot of talent. Not impressed yet. Where’s the recruiting?

bob

March 3rd, 2010
6:44 am

Wonder what Fox could have done with the talent at Tech? Has a UGA coach ever left for Tech?
I can only hope.

KevinM

March 3rd, 2010
6:50 am

Okay, so Fox is the Coach of the year, because he hasn’t lost 17-20 games like you predicted? Mark, you guage the COY based on the performance of the team.
Anytime in the history of the SEC has a coach won COY when not going to the NCAA-T? Perhaps Fox can win one game on the road before annointing him COY. Mark, a team is SUPPOSED to win its home games.
Give me Cal as COY in the SEC. Easy pick, and Stallings might even get the nod based on how well he has done overall.
But the Cats will be ready tonight, and that home streak will have an asterisk by it; undefeated at home with the exception of Big Blue, who brings their usual upper-bowl blue filled crowd with them to back them up.
Wearing your blue and white tonight Mark? I doubt it.

Gordon

March 3rd, 2010
6:53 am

You wrote a similar article about Paul Hewitt in 2001. Time will sort this out.

Dzerzhinsky

March 3rd, 2010
6:55 am

Based on their respective salaries and their season accomplishments, Fox should be the one to make 3 million and Coach Overpaid whatever they pay Fox. Maybe some of Fox’s mojo will rub off on Richt. Hope springs eternal.

south

March 3rd, 2010
6:57 am

SC Boy…Tell us all about all the talent Fox inherited. It will be fun to watch you sound like the idiot you are.

SmoothJimmyApollo

March 3rd, 2010
7:01 am

If Fox hasn’t won a national title by 2013, we should fire him. There is not time in college basketball or the SEC in particular for coaches who can’t do what they are hired to do within four years at the most. Would Alabama have kept Saban if they had lost the national title game last year? Of course not, they would have thrown him out and hired a proven winner like Brad Childress. UGA basketball must act the same way and treat this with the utmost importance. If Fox doesn’t win at least 25 games, the SEC regular season, the SEC tournament, and a minimum of a 2-seed next year, we need to tell him to hit the road, buyout be darned.

Stuck in Kentucky

March 3rd, 2010
7:01 am

I am in the middle of Wildcat country and they are very concerned about this game. That being said, the loss to Tenn will make them more focused and not take the Dawgs for granted. No matter, Coach Fox has done a great job. Go Dawgs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Jaydawg

March 3rd, 2010
7:08 am

Who cares?Basketball sux.How many days til kickoff?

Grey Dog

March 3rd, 2010
7:10 am

Tubby Smith should have never left Georgia! Now he is in the frozen tundra with no chance of winning championships! He could have been a legend if he had stayed at Georgia! Georgia has a coach now who will bcome that legend! SEC Coach of the Year and more to come!

Stuck in Kentucky

March 3rd, 2010
7:17 am

Grey Dog, i didn’t understand why Tubby left until I saw a game in Rupp. There is really nothing like it. It was a Ga game and I felt they were down 20 before tipoff due to the homecourt advantage. I just thought Bulldog fans were passionate, they do not hold a candle to these nut jobs.

JB

March 3rd, 2010
7:18 am

In Two years, The Fox Dawgs will be the one’s chased in the SEC East. You watch, he’ll look Georgia over( recruiting), but he’ll look out West also and pull a plum or two to Athens that will open eyes.

Atticus

March 3rd, 2010
7:21 am

Mark, I don’t recall, why didn’t you like him as a hire? I agree he has had a great season and I like the way they respond, I love their free throw shooting, cutting down on turnovers etc….But his key is going to be recruiting now. If you are a great coach you don’t have to get the very best and as he has shown, he can develop them. But he needs much better guard play and more inside presence.

dawg4life

March 3rd, 2010
7:27 am

BRAVO,BRAVO GO DAWGS

pws

March 3rd, 2010
7:34 am

Hey Mark: Did you ever verifiy that Mark Price offered to help with the GT free throw shooting and PH said, “No, thank you?,we don’t have a problem in that area”? And ask DRad about the tournament tickets that are still available from GT, we GT alums are not willing to fork out the cost of the tickets to go see the same old thing we have seen all season, no coaching.

Meatlake

March 3rd, 2010
7:40 am

Seems like they’re learning how win. I agree that they’re definitely improving the more they play.

TommyP

March 3rd, 2010
7:50 am

“If they’re lucky they’ll manage to pull out a bloop double.”

That’s what you said in your blog when Fox was hired.

I re-read the article and came to an obvious conclusion: You knew NOTHING about this guy and pretty much said Georgia blew it. Why wouldn’t you do a little investigating, a little research, before you would condemn the hire. You pretty much said Damon Evans was stupid in many different ways. (not going after Grant, shooting for the hot hires like Capel and Anderson)

Why would you go into an article with zero knowledge of the guy and then condemn the hire?

[...] Mark Bradley of the AJC thinks Georgia’s Mark Fox is the SEC Coach of the Year: “Coach of the year awards don’t always go to those who win their conferences, but seldom are they bestowed on someone who enters the final days of the regular season tied for last in a division. I speak here of Mark Fox, and he should be the exception. He should be the SEC’s coach of the year.” [...]

Required Reading | Hard Knox Sports

March 3rd, 2010
7:53 am

[...] Is Fox SEC coach of year? We’ll take Stallings. [AJC] [...]

70 Dawg

March 3rd, 2010
7:59 am

Mark, Thanks for “manning up” about Coach Fox’s hiring. You were not alone as we had our usual negative, sarcastic Chicken Littles who shared your view. Maybe they learned something? I doubt it. Selah.

WonderDawg

March 3rd, 2010
7:59 am

They haven’t won on the road yet, but if they play well on neutral courts, they could make a run in the SEC tournament.

Obviously Mark realizes he was wrong about Fox. He’s written several complimentary bits about him.

Larvell "SugarBear" Blanks

March 3rd, 2010
8:00 am

Mark,

Thanks for writing this long overdue column on Coach Fox. Like yourself he has exceeded my expectations immensly! I also must admit that like yourself I was cursing this hire last year. I was thinking what in the hell were Evans and Adams thinking!!! But hey, the proved us wrong. And boy did they……I have been literally stunned at what Coach Fox has been able to get out of this rag-tag bunch. This only confirms that Felton was probably one of Georgia’s worst hires of all time. Somwhere out in Arizona where Felton is now working for the Phoenix Suns he has to be somewhat miffed at what Fox has done. NOW…….my only concern is that several years from now after Georgia has made some serious in roads in the tourney that some ACC school will come along and make him the proverbial “offer he cannot refuse”

Oh and Yes, I will be along for the ride this evening! Is the game going to be on ESPN?

Harpoon

March 3rd, 2010
8:09 am

I guess the coach has “foxed” em.

[...] Mark Bradley of the AJC thinks Georgia’s Mark Fox is the SEC Coach of the Year: “Coach of the year awards don’t always go to those who win their conferences, but seldom are they bestowed on someone who enters the final days of the regular season tied for last in a division. I speak here of Mark Fox, and he should be the exception. He should be the SEC’s coach of the year.” [...]

Really?

March 3rd, 2010
8:23 am

From a Tech fan’e perspective….Fox has done a super job in his first season. But beward UGA fans, there is a certain coach at Tech that looked real good early on as well. One advantage for UGA- your AD is not Dave Braine. If UGA can get Thompkins and Leslie to stick around, next year should be a good one for Fox’s Dawgs.

charlesUGA70

March 3rd, 2010
8:23 am

It has been a long time since we have had a coach who can teach, communicate and transform players like Coach Fox. True test of a teacher is if fundamental things change, and from the first time I saw this team, it was obvious that he has changed not only the basics of bball but some attitudes as well.

Barkin'Dog

March 3rd, 2010
8:26 am

Great write-up, Mark. Thanks!
For those wondering, the game is televised on Peachtree TV at 8.
I’d be going to the game if it wasn’t sold out. This could be a barn burner. The Florida game Saturday was the best I’ve seen all year, as the Dawgs came off of an OT game 2 nights before on the road and played the rested Gators tough to the last .1 second. With rest and added confidence, I see the Dawgs pulling an upset at home, sending fans into a frenzy that will carry over into the tourney. Focus and poise, and the job gets done.
Can’t wait to watch the game tonight. Wish I could be there. Rock the place fans… “we must protect this house!” Go Dawgs!!

RomeDawg

March 3rd, 2010
8:33 am

He knows basketball and he’s a winner! It’s gonna be hard to take coach of the year honors from Calipari. He’s at a new school and his two best players are freshmen (really, really good freshmen, but freshmen none the less.) Fox’s has to raise the talent level in order to really compete in Athens. That Tech win isn’t really that impressive anymore, is it?

I Run This State

March 3rd, 2010
8:38 am

Dawg Fan

March 3rd, 2010
8:40 am

As a UGA fan, it is a stretch to annoint Fox as COY in the SEC. However, to Bradley’s credit, it is hard to think any of the other coaches in the SEC deserve it….

Callipari has had a quick turnaround for UK, but everybody knows that the NCAA will erase this season from the record books when UK goes on probation

Pearl has done a remarkable job keeping the Vols competitive with all their distractions, but who recruited those distractions? Coach Pearl

Stallings is the favorite in my mind. He sure knows how to coach his players how to make free throws

Fox only recruited one player on this UGA team and he has gotten the most out of what was a pretty bad team last year. Fox is probably just as deserving as any of these guys

Really?

March 3rd, 2010
8:42 am

RomeDawg- Calipari is slime. The NCAA probably has an outpost in Lexington now. We will likely hear many John Wall impropriety stories next year. Those freshmen will be gone after this year.

rdawg

March 3rd, 2010
8:59 am

Mark I believe the game is at 7, not 8, but could be wrong.

Too Easy

March 3rd, 2010
8:59 am

Fox and the Hounds leave it all on the court, win or lose. That has to underly everything before a winning tradition is established. Maybe we’re on that road, but as was said above, let’s see the recruiting. Also liking that resiliency to bounce back.

EW

March 3rd, 2010
9:00 am

Enjoyed the read. I think Mark Fox’s Coach of the year may come next year. If he can sustain the level he set this year and build on it next year, he should have a shot. Next year expectations will be higher, we’ll see how well they respond. He’s done an excellent job at making the program relevant. I am excited about UGA basketball for the first time…well….ever.

Mark Bradley

March 3rd, 2010
9:03 am

The game is at 8, rdawg.

Dawgdad

March 3rd, 2010
9:03 am

Mark, after the Tech game you made the ill advised comment that GA beat Tech with only one player who could make Tech’s team, Thompkins. Would you like to take this opportunity to apologize to Travis Leslie and Dustin Ware?

Randnotell

March 3rd, 2010
9:03 am

Mark,
Stop by the UGA SGA meeting re: higher education budget cuts before you go to the Stegasaurus! It’s right before the game, at 7pm in South PJ. We’d love to get some student perspective on the budget cuts story into your fine newspaper, especially since you’re the AJC’s higher education reporter and all.

ATL

March 3rd, 2010
9:10 am

MB,

You are wrong again! UGAY is still horrible! Not going to tournament and 0 road wins. Laughable!

Mark Bradley

March 3rd, 2010
9:14 am

Thanks, Randnotell, but I’m not even the AJC’s lower education reporter.

AthDog

March 3rd, 2010
9:19 am

SCDog…’inherited a lot of talent’, HUH? Leslie was no more than a straight dunker when the last guy left. Now, he is a good defender, rebounder, passes well, has elevated his all around game as much as any in the conference. Trey was already a nice player and has gotten better. Everyone on the roster is much improved, with the exception of the enigma Al Jackson. Fabulous, NBA type body, and just not able to translate it to the court. Our problem is not whether Travis and Trey stay, but whether or not we can keep our ‘other Mark’.

Wofford 60 UGA 57

March 3rd, 2010
9:20 am

2010 SoCon Conference Regular Season Champs! Go Terriers!

Georgia got its Knight

March 3rd, 2010
9:20 am

Im with you Mark. I had on my facebook for weeks last year that “Georgia was in need of a KNIGHT” (aka Bobby Knight). I was furious when we hired this guy that no one knew anything about. But Damon Evans has shown us all that he knows what hes doing and Mark Fox has proven that he was the best person for the job. I look forward to seeing Fox on the sidelines for many many seasons!