The case for keeping Mark Fox at Georgia is getting more and more difficult to press with each passing day. I’m trying to channel Clarence Darrow here, but the eloquent defense just isn’t coming.
Those who value Fox for his virtuous stewardship of Bulldogs basketball – especially now when the FBI is overturning rocks and finding all manner of ethical invertebrates – are losing their platform. The soapbox is disintegrating beneath our feet.
Fox has to help; he has to give us something tangible to work with here.
And now, following Wednesday night’s 61-60 home loss to Texas A&M, it seems Fox’s only chance to do that is a real Hail Mary – winning next week’s SEC Tournament.
Because, you see, losing the right way is a really tough concept to sell out there in the court of public opinion. For this to work, eventually you have to win the right way.
Well, here goes:
We do undervalue the coach of principle. The culture of college athletics is to place disproportionate importance on how many (victories) over how. In the cynical sphere, it is too easy to win with a knowing wink and a nod to the implication that everyone is breaking the rules.
The last time the Bulldogs actually won a NCAA Tournament game was 2002, but that isn’t officially recognized because those victories were vacated due to the absurd violations of Jim Harrick and Son. We pause here to recall one of the questions on Harrick Jr.’s Principles and Strategies of Basketball exam: How many points is a 3-point basket worth? It is the last time the words “principle” and “Harrick” shared a sentence.
So, yes, winning can be more embarrassing than losing.
The fact that Fox in nine years never has been shown to play fast and loose with the rules – and that has to put him at a competitive disadvantage at times – plays a large role in his performance view. That his team has recorded a perfect graduation success rate that past three years has to mean something. The man has earned every benefit of the doubt.
With him coaching, the Georgia athletic department can go about its business unconcerned about the next FBI revelation. Such comfort should be highly valued.
Fox is a voice that college athletics can use right now. He can make declarations like, “I'm disgusted with how people have treated our game,” and come off as one of the few believable sources of outrage. A certain amount of professional piety looks good on him, where on other coaches it would fit like a priest’s collar on a casino pit boss.
OK, that’s all I got.
We’ve been through this before with another good man named Mark, but Richt at least won more. This is the hardest kind of coaching debate, when a high stack of good intentions conflict with bottom-line results. It’s just so much easier to sack a scoundrel.
What a foul week it has been for Fox and his program. That loss to A&M was another case of his Bulldogs not finishing off a game – which is the gravest kind of coaching sin. So bereft were his players at the end of Senior Night at Stegeman Coliseum that no senior - or any other player, for that matter, was made available to speak to the media afterward. Nice parting statement on what might be the season’s last home game (barring a NIT home date).
Because of the uncertainty of Fox’s job status, his prize recruit, 5-star point guard Ashton Hagans of Covington, de-committed Monday. In case you haven’t noticed, guard play has been the single largest failing with this team. Second only to oxygen, Georgia needs a floor leader.
If these Bulldogs don’t do something highly dramatic in the conference tournament, they will have squandered the past three seasons – the best years – of Yante Maten’s career without making the Big Dance. And you know these numbers better than most: Georgia then will have gone to the NCAAs just twice in the nine-year Fox regime.
Fox needs a better advocate than I have been here. More than that, though, he needs a team that wins five, maybe six, more games in the next 10 days, beginning with Saturday’s regular-season finale at Tennessee.