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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.

11 comments:

Bernie said...

Great post and wrap-up to what has been a long process. The hire surprised me, which you had been predicting might happen for a while. I hope fans see thru the Capel crap for the load it was - our bball program is what it is.

We got a good coach and hopefully have an offense now that does more than stand around waiting for the score to change.

Senator Blutarsky said...

For what it's worth, it looks like Nevada had its share of off-court issues this past season:

http://nevadasagebrush.com/blog/2009/03/09/ups-and-downs-end-with-hot-finish/

It may not mean much, but I hope Damon and/or the search company did a thorough job of vetting Fox.

jferg said...

Well....it's over....that's the best news!

Now, can we all agree....NO MORE BASEKTBALL TALK!

3 things can be discussed: Football, Diamond Dogs, and Football.

Anyone else on board?

Anonymous said...

"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."

Actually, since one of the four players he has put in the NBA (Sessions) is from Myrtle Beach...three of the current roster are from Texas(Dallas, Arlington, and Houston), one from New Orleans, and one from Charlotte, North Carolina. It isn't Georgia, but it shows that he at least has been in the region.

Plus, McGee was from Chicago, Fazekus from Denver, Snyder from LA...his current 4 star guard was from New Hampshire and he beat out Illinois for his signature...

I would say that your blanket statement about no ties to the South and questions about whether he can tap into it via recruiting isn't really supported by anything other than your own presuppositions.

rbubp said...

"Now, can we all agree....NO MORE BASEKTBALL TALK!"

Gee, last time I checked it was still basketball season, and football season doesn't start for several months yet.

You people are the problem. While it's nice that David has such a nice wrap on the hire today, I find it absolutely frightening that so many people apparently care about how many passes the third-string qb completed yesterday, and that we get 9 or 10 posts in a row about spring f'ing football to every one or two for the bb search and the #1 ranked baseball team. Day-amn!

You're not going to get a quality BB program with an attitude like that.

the anonymous suckup said...

David:

I agree with most of what you said. If fans' expectations had been realistic from the start, we'd be happier with the hire. This guy might be really good or really bad. We can't know which one right now.

However, I'm not sure how Evans could've limited expectations by talking more. In my opinion, he talked too much. He made a big deal about how money was no object and how he was shooting for the top, etc. But I'm not sure how he could've put that toothpaste back in the tube. If he had tried to limit expectations in the last few weeks, he probably would've ended up sounding like Dave Braine when he so famously said Tech couldn't be expected to regularly contend for championships because of their supposedly superior academic standards. That didn't work out too well for him, and I don't think a similar comment by Evans would've worked out well for him either.

Bernie said...

Don't blame writers for writing about what sells print or what draws "clicks". And don't blame readers for reading what interests them.

It's a big athletic department. We all choose what interests us most and when.

I click accordingly.

Mike In Valdosta said...

Nice wrap up. It will be interesting to see what kind of staff he puts together. Perhaps he will have some Southern ties on the bench with him.

David Hale said...

That's pretty much my point, Mike... I think this IS a good hire. It's just that, at this point, no one really knows what to expect. There's a lot to happen between now and next season and, in truth, ANY coach will likely struggle with the talent in place for next year. That's part of the reason they couldn't land a top guy.

Again, I like this hire quite a bit. My problem (well, not really MY problem, but THE problem some people have) is that fans expected a home run and this feels a bit more like a ground-rule double. That's not necessarily a bad thing.

the anonymous suckup said...

I'll definitely take a ground rule double over the collection of balks and hit batsmen we've had since Tubby left...

JM said...

At least its not a strike out where the ball gets away and the guy gets to first base...

Excellent post David. I think you nailed the major issue here being the process.

Of course, two things to consider...
3 months ago, UGA couldn't have foreseen Gillespie getting fired and Calipari replacing him for the huge amount of money. I think this really could have affected the process. UGA was probably considering that they would be in the same echelon of other schools needing coaches and not having to compete with Kentucky and then Memphis.

Also, Mizzou's run deeper into the tourney could have had an impact on them being more resolute to keep him. Had they been bounced first round, we might have had a better shot at him.

Overall, I agree that we didn't handle the process right, but those two points are at least considerable to understand the way things went down.