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Friday, April 3, 2009

The Fox Factor

I've gotten a few emails and comments asking my opinion on this hire. In truth, I'd love to give you one. But here's what I know about Mark Fox: Nothing.

Well, that's not entirely true. I've read his credentials just as you have. He has won a lot of basketball games. He has worked under some good coaches in his career as an assistant. He's certainly earned a shot to prove he can win at the next level. For all of those reasons, this is a good hire.

In fact, I would go so far as to say this is exactly the type of coach -- and maybe the specific coach -- that Georgia should have targeted. He has a good background and lots to prove. That's who Georgia needed and who it could get.

The truth is, to look back at how this search played out, the problem fans should have right now is not with the result but with the process. I believe fans should be excited about Fox. I can also understand why some are not.

Fans were led to believe that big names were within reach. There was Anthony Grant, the biggest name from the small schools. There was Mike Anderson, the guy Georgia was willing to shell out huge dollars to get. There was Jeff Capel, the biggest name that really never had much chance of landing here. There was Tubby.

Those were people who would get fans excited. They would signal that Georgia was really taking that next step -- perhaps not immediately in terms of wins and losses, but a sign that winning was a priority.

Moreover, Georgia had nearly three months to prepare for this hire. They had, reportedly, millions (plural) of dollars to lure in a top candidate. And in the end, the school played the role of leverage for guys like Anderson and Grant, and the big paycheck wasn't enough to lure a big name.

Fox, as good as he might end up being at Georgia, is not a headliner. My guess would be that 95 percent of fans had to Google his name to find out anything about him. I know I did. (Interesting side note: Fox and I share the same birthday.)

Go back and look at what Damon Evans said about this hire. Think about what he said he was looking for. Fox could certainly fulfill the qualifications Evans set forth, but it's far from a slam dunk.

The truth is, Fox has no ties to the South, so while he may be a great recruiter, there's little evidence he'll immediately lay claim to Georgia's fertile recruiting base. And the truth is, Fox has experience -- but just five years of it as a head coach. Granted, he's done more in those five years than Georgia has done in the past 10, but I think most fans assumed "experience" meant winning at a level higher than Nevada. Evans said he wanted a CEO of basketball. Fox may fit that bill, but it's understandable why fans need to be convinced first.

So the problem isn't that Fox is who Georgia finally ended up with. The problem is that the long road to get here had fans hoping, knowing, believing Georgia would do better. Well, perhaps not better, but definitely bigger.

And that's where the silence of the past two months has hurt what should be an exciting time in Georgia basketball. From the Bobby Knight stories to the hope of Tubby Smith to the daydreams of Jeff Capel, the expectations were never tempered. In politics, it's smart to under-promise and over-deliver. Temper expectations, then wow them in the end.

That's a good plan for coaching hires, too. Unfortunately in this case, fans' expectations were never reined in until the news broke that Fox was the man. That's not fair to him, the program or the fans.

I will say this though: There has been more interest in Georgia basketball in the past two weeks than there had been in a long, long time. Job No. 1 for both Fox and Evans should be to keep that interest going. Where Dennis Felton failed the most wasn't on the court. It was in connecting with his audience. Fox won't have fans selling out games to see him in a nifty suit on the sideline, but I think most are ready and willing to give him a real shot.

There is an opportunity here, and fans are ready to embrace anything but more silence.


Anonymous said...

David: Thanks for your thoughts.

Can you try to ask Damon tomorrow if this was what he had in mind when we wanted "gauge" the Bulldawg Nation? Or if he is ready for the large amount of skepticism and frankly disappointment about the way the search was handled after 3 months of research and exploring?

Thanks a lot - I really what to know what Damon was thinking especially if we want to keep the best players in Georgia.

NCT said...

First off, I'm true to my school, and it's difficult for me to get upset over a process and decision over which I had no control.

With the understanding that those factors temper my current mood, I have no problem with how the search was handled or with how it ended. The rumors of the big-time targets, where we would have one of the highest paid coaches in the country, generated lots of interest and excitement. That money isn't always enough to lure an established and ambitious big-time name may be a disappointing reality check, but it's not exactly a surprise.

As for the process, I think the University handled it well. This was a very quiet process from UGA's standpoint. No one in any official capacity ever said, "We're going after Capel" (or Grant or Anderson or anybody). That was all unconfirmed (denied, even) media rumor and agent spin. I see no reason whatsoever for Damon or anyone at the University to feel embarrassed about supposed big-time rejections. After all, we know the state of Georgia basketball.

Those fans (both of UGA and other schools) who are inclined to consider this hire a disappointment should think again. We have reason to believe that the powers that be are very serious about basketball. Our program has not earned the right to have expectations of overnight success. This is brand new territory for the Bulldogs: our championship programs have long, established histories. Very few of us are old enough (I'm not) to remember what it was like to build a successful tennis, golf, or swimming team from the ground up. And even though most of us are old enough to remember that it took several years to go through Dooley's final years through Goff to Donnan before getting where football is now, it appears many still expect more sudden success in basketball.

For those, I would suggest they check out the resumes of other successful head coaches at the time they took their current positions: Donovan, Pearl, Anderson, Meyer, Richt. Who knows? Fox may be one of them in a few years.

Patience is a virtue.

Anonymous said...

"They would signal that Georgia was really taking that next step -- perhaps not immediately in terms of wins and losses, but a sign that winning was a priority."

Like most people, I did not know anything about the guy, but everything that I read is positive. If Damon hired one of the "names" that is exactly what we would get - a name. There would be immediate impact and excitement, but the likelihood is that the name would do well and then go elsewhere, or cash in on the name and not quite reach expectations, but do well enough that we can't move on. This guy can do well, and grow into the position and grow the program, but if he doesn't, cutting him loose would be no problem.

I think he will do well. He has placed four kids in the NBA in the last five years. How many can UGA say we've placed, from a stronger conference sitting in the middle of prime talent territory? Wait, wait, don't shout the names out so fast, I can't get them all down.

LSU made it to the NCAA tourney this year with very little expectation of doing so before the season. Why do I bring that up? They had a new coach, largely unheard of who Fox has apparently coached with (Fox was the assistant) in the past. Chances are Fox has talked with him and knows exactly what he is getting into, and still wants the job.

It's a perfect hire, imo.

Anonymous said...

I like this hire. As an optimist, I had hoped that we would land a guy like Anderson or Grant even; as a realist, I knew that wasn't going to happen. It takes more than a paycheck to get those guys in here, something a lot of fans seem to forget.

I, like most of you, don't know too much about Fox. But I don't think that is really a bad thing.
It gives us a chance to start with a clean slate.

ChicagoDawg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ChicagoDawg said...

David -- I thought you presented a pretty measured summary of events, although I mildly disagree on the process/silence stuff, as we discussed the other night. Nonetheless, your points are well taken about lowering expectations and over delivering. I think NCT spoke very well about the state of UGA basketball and what is reasonable to expect at this juncture. Indeed, UGA has not earned the right to claim whatever coach they want.

Also, it is easy to make the assumption that Fox will struggle to recruit in GA because his experience to date has been west of the Mississippi and he lacks connections with the Atlanta AAU community. However, there really is no basis in fact for that conclusion. There are numerous examples of coaches from the North doing well at Southern schools. Valvano at NC State immediately comes to mind. More recent history gives us Pitino at UK and Louisville. There is also Calapari, who hails from the NE and has done fine at Memphis and should do well in Lexington. Bruce Pearl never coached in the South as HC or assistant and arrived at UT from Wisconsin-Milwaukee!! Trent Johnson at LSU coached exclusively west of the Mississippi prior to LSU (including Nevada). Lastly, we can even switch to Football, the most provincial of all Southern sports, and look at Urban Meyer who rolled into UF from Utah and Bowling Green. Les Miles is another example. Miles played at Big10 Michigan (ahh!! the horror!), speaks with a northern accent and is a bit of a whack job. We know how those hires have worked out. For all I know, Fox may be car crash and will set UGA basketball back further still -- if that is possible. My point is this, let's not be so simplistic as to assume that you have to speak with a drawl or have a history in specific region to be able to compete. Winners and leaders practice their craft wherever they are and people gravitate towards both characteristics. Only time will tell if that happens with this hire.

David Hale said...

Just to clarify... I'm not saying Fox WILL struggle to recruit... I'm just saying we don't know at this point. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Look, I like the hire. I have a lot left to learn about the guy, but on the face, it seems like a good move. The problem, I think, is that fans were led to believe this would be a home run and, for now at least, it feels more like a ground-rule double.

Anonymous said...

FWIW, Fox's arguably best recruit at Nevada was Ramon Sessions (solid NBA career) from ... Myrtle Beach, SC.


ChicagoDawg said...

David -- You are correct. From a visceral perspective, this hire does not immediately inspire or have the sex appeal that might otherwise be there had they landed a Capel or Anderson.