ATHENS -- Kentucky coach John Calipari went to great lengths to praise Georgia's Mark Fox on a conference call this week, saying the Bulldogs coach "has done a terrific job," that Fox's teams "defend, they play inside-out, they run great stuff" and -- drum roll -- that he's "one of the better coaches in our country."
Fox's response, with a smile: "He's a marketing master. He's a PR master."
OK, so there might've been a trace of schmoozing going on with Calipari, particularly the eve of tonight's game against the Bulldogs. But Fox is pretty well-respected in coaching circles. The biggest thing keeping Georgia from sustained success has been an inability by Fox -- and his predecessors -- to keep the state's best high school talent from flowing elsewhere instead of the state's flagship university.
Fox believes things are improving in that regard. How the Dogs fare the rest of the season and in the NCAA tournament, which seems a virtual lock, will go a long way toward the program and the head coach gaining more respect.
Yes, this has been a strange season. Georgia recently losing consecutive home games to Auburn and South Carolina, and then winning consecutive games at Alabama and Ole Miss. But the Dogs are 19-9 (10-6 in the SEC) and they rank 35th in RPI (fourth among SEC schools), despite those two horrible losses.
Fox deserved the two-year contract extension (through the 2018 season) that was tendered to him last spring. For whatever reason, Fox delayed signing the deal until recently. But athletic director Greg McGarity disclosed Tuesday that both he and the coach had signed the contract recently.
McGarity wrote that the deal is still "waiting on final signatures on campus" to make it official.
Kentucky is 29-0, including wins over Kansas, North Carolina and Louisville. So if Georgia loses tonight in sold out Stegemen Coliseum, nobody should view that as some program setback. Fox took over a wreck of a program. While that doesn't mean he should get an endless lifeline, he has made significant strides in Athens and there's no reason to believe that won't continue.
I'll have more in a full column later on MyAJC.com.