John Calipari. Anthony Grant. Mark Fox.
One of those names does not seem to belong, and not coincidentally, he’s coaching at the school with the least-excited fan base following the recent basketball hires in the SEC. Kentucky fans already are booking trips to future Final Fours. Alabama landed one of the most highly regarded young coaches in the game, a man with recruiting ties all over the South.
Georgia got that guy from out West. Mark Few? No, no. Mark Fox. The Nevada coach. You know, Reno. Yes, Georgia fired Dennis Felton in January to get an early start on the coaching search and land the Nevada coach. No, people around here don’t seem to know much about him.
But there is a coach who knows Fox very well. His name is Jim McLaughlin, and he’s the only volleyball coach in NCAA history to win men’s and women’s national titles.
McLaughlin and Fox began their relationship at Kansas State, where the two would exchange coaching philosophies and strategies. McLaughlin knows coaches. He knows Fox. And he says Fox is capable of winning championships at Georgia.
“I have been around some of the best coaches in the world,” said McLaughlin, now at Washington, “and Mark Fox has everything that the great coaches have. He’s a great teacher. He’s a great recruiter, he’s good with people and he knows this business. No one is above criticism, and for sure Mark is going to get his. He’ll prove to those doubters how good he is. I’ve been around him a lot. I know he’s capable of leading those guys to a championship.”
McLaughlin remembers getting to work early at Kansas State and staying late, another 15-hour day, yet Fox’s car was in the parking lot when he arrived and still there when he left. There was the time Fox decided to miss the birth of his daughter because he wanted to recruit a guard named Kyle Shiloh.
Fox, and this is the most crucial part of the Georgia job, can recruit. The Bulldogs will be regulars in the NCAA tournament if they can simply entice the talent all around them to stay close to home. Well, Fox signed highly regarded players such as Nick Fazekas (a future NBA second-round pick) to Reno, known as The Biggest Little City in the World and not the basketball capital of the world.
“He has a good eye for talent,” McLaughlin said. “It’s not the initial ability, but the final ability that counts. He’s able to develop guys, guys that some people said, ‘Where did he come from?’ Mark is a very good teacher and good recruiter in a region that doesn’t have a ton of recruits like Georgia. Put him in that environment and he’ll excel. The wins will come. Wait until you’re around him. You’ll feel the energy and the good vibe he creates.
“I haven’t met anybody that doesn’t like the guy.”
Well, there are plenty who don’t like the hire. Georgia dreamed big with Jeff Capel and Mike Anderson and got brought back to reality faster than Georgia’s stay in the SEC tournament. Fox is certainly not familiar with the high school coaches in the South like Grant and Calipari. Fox isn’t going to generate many ticket sales.
But sometimes, it’s the underwhelming pick — like Vince Dooley or current Georgia baseball coach David Perno — with so much still to prove who succeeds.
“He’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done,” McLaughlin said. “He understands his priorities. He wants to win a championship. It’ll take time to get things in place. But they made a great choice at Georgia. They got the right guy.”