Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity sought to end speculation about Mark Fox's job security Tuesday following a report that the Bulldogs' basketball coach was in trouble. But in doing so, he also seemed to say for the first time that Fox definitely will be back for another season.
Responding to a report by Yahoo Sports that Georgia is "exploring its options to replace Mark Fox," McGarity issued a statement through the school's sports information department, reading: "In response to the report by Yahoo Sports, we are NOT in the process of exploring our options to replace Mark Fox. We look forward to Mark leading our program next year and all of our efforts are centered on postseason play. It’s unfortunate we need to respond at this time, but it was necessary to quiet these unfounded rumors."
There are a number of strange things about McGarity's response, starting with this one: The story of Fox's uncertain status has been out there for several weeks but McGarity has consistently deferred comment until after the season. What changed in the last 24 hours, other than a national media outlet weighing in?
The part of McGarity's statement that stands out the most is, "We look forward to Mark leading our program next year..."
McGarity had never said that before.
He had never said anything before.
He could've put out a statement about not responding to rumors and the program being focused on this week's SEC tournament in Nashville and that would've sufficed. But adding the part about Fox "leading our program next year," appeared to settle the issue. If Fox was always safe, why wasn't this stated before?
I emailed him Tuesday for clarification but he declined to amplify on the statement.
McGarity has continually declined all comment on Fox's future, most recently from me two weeks ago. It's standard operating procedure for the athletic director to defer all comments about any coach until following their respective season. He did the same thing whenever former football coach Mark Richt came under fire.
Fox's status was referenced by Yahoo's Pat Forde in a column on the college basketball coaching carousel. The original version of the column, since updated, read: "Georgia is exploring its options to replace Mark Fox, according to sources. Fox has not been fired, but the school is gathering information on potential successors." Forde went on to name potential replacements.
A report about Fox potentially being in trouble was not news. That the school would be gathering intel on potential successors wouldn't be stunning because it's normal for administrators to have a list of potential candidates, just on the chance a coach is fired.
If this was meant as a public vote of confidence by McGarity, it was a strange delivery. It's possible McGarity wanted to settle the issue before this week's SEC tournament. But why now as opposed to last week or the week before?
My position on Fox is the same: I believe he's a good coach. He's certainly a likable guy and is respected by his peers. But this year's team has underachieved, relative to expectations. Georgia had the talent to be an NCAA tournament team but goes into the SEC tourney likely needing at least two wins to be considered for a berth. They play Tennessee in the first round Thursday and, if they win, would meet No. 1 seed and heavy favorite Kentucky on Friday.
As I wrote two weeks ago, for the first time Fox's job should be in question. I've never endorsed his firing but for the first time I could understand if McGarity went in that direction.
Presumably, he's not.
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