Georgia suffering the most sizable skid of the Mark Fox era

Georgia suffering the most sizable skid of the Mark Fox era

February 12th, 2018 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Georgia basketball coach Mark Fox visits with senior guard Juwan Parker during Saturday's 78-61 home loss to Auburn, which was the eighth loss for the Bulldogs in their past 10 games.

Photo by NICOLE ADAMSON

The numbers are not adding up for Mark Fox deep into his ninth season as the men's basketball coach of the Georgia Bulldogs.

Saturday's 78-61 loss to No. 8 Auburn in Stegeman Coliseum was the eighth defeat in the past 10 games for the Bulldogs, who are 13-11 overall and just 4-8 in Southeastern Conference play this season. That is the worst 10-game stretch in the Fox era, and Georgia has lost its last three by at least 15 points, which is another dubious first under Fox.

Georgia offered little resistance to Bruce Pearl's Tigers, who were playing without leading scorer Bryce Brown, but the most stinging setback of the season may have been last Wednesday's 81-66 loss at last-place Vanderbilt.

No aging well

The three SEC men’s basketball coaches with the longest tenures at their schools are not faring well this season:

ANDY KENNEDY
School: Ole Miss
Season: 12th
SEC mark: 4-8
Stat: Kennedy’s Rebels have never won fewer than seven league games in a single season and were 52-38 in SEC play the five seasons before this one.

MARK FOX
School: Georgia
Season: Ninth
SEC mark: 4-8
Stat: The Bulldogs haven’t finished with a losing SEC record since 2012 but are headed that way with eight losses in their past 10 games.

JOHN CALIPARI
School: Kentucky
Season: Ninth
SEC mark: 6-6
Stat: The Wildcats, who have lost three straight games, have never lost more than six SEC contests in a season under Calipari.

"It all falls on the coaching staff, and it all falls on me," Fox said in a news conference after Saturday's defeat. "I'll take 100 percent of the responsibility — 100. OK? That's on me. That's totally on a coach to make sure we have a scheme and are ready to go.

"The individuals have to emotionally get themselves ready to play, and we've got to find a way to push those buttons, and that totally falls on me."

Fox is 158-129 overall at Georgia, including 74-76 in SEC games, and has guided the Bulldogs to just two NCAA tournaments, failing to advance on either occasion. Georgia's last NCAA appearance occurred in 2015, and Fox soon after that was given a new five-year deal through the 2020 season that pays him $2 million annually, which was a bump from $1.7 million.

Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity and Fox conducted a news conference after the 2016 season, which ended with a second-round NIT loss at St. Mary's (Calif.), with McGarity stating the program had shown "continuous improvement." McGarity typically waits until after a season to discuss a coach, but that was not the case last March, when a Yahoo Sports report claimed Georgia had begun evaluating potential candidates to replace Fox.

McGarity responded immediately with a statement.

"We are NOT in the process of exploring our options to replace Mark Fox," McGarity said. "We look forward to Mark leading our program next year, and all of our efforts are centered on postseason play."

The Bulldogs went on to lose to Belmont in the first round of the NIT.

After finishing tied for sixth in the SEC two seasons ago and eighth last year, the Bulldogs were picked to finish eighth again in 2017-18. This season, of course, began with Alabama dismissing director of basketball operations Kobie Baker and Auburn dismissing assistant coach Chuck Person due to their involvement in an ongoing federal probe, which resulted in McGarity giving his coach another round of support.

"We are extremely confident in Mark Fox and the way he runs his program," McGarity said.

Georgia was 11-3 overall and 2-1 in SEC play before this sizable slide that already may have become too steep for Fox to coach a 10th season in Athens. The Bulldogs play at Florida on Wednesday and still have two games remaining with Tennessee, which was picked 13th in the league before the season but is currently tied for second with the Gators.

Dennis Felton, Fox's predecessor, was 71-79 deep into his fifth season in 2008, when the Bulldogs amazingly won four games in three days at an SEC tournament that was relocated to Georgia Tech from the Georgia Dome after a tornado strike. Felton was fired after a 9-11 start the next season, and it's possible that turn of events could prevent Fox from keeping his job with a late-season surge.

Bulldogs senior forward Yante Maten leads the league with an average of 19.4 points per game and ranks third in rebounding with 8.7 per contest. Georgia, however, ranks 13th in the SEC in both shooting percentage from 3-point range and overall field-goal percentage.

"I haven't given up on anything in my life," Maten told reporters Saturday. "Being a leader of this team, I'm going to relay that message that we don't give up. That's not how we roll at Georgia.

"At the end of the day, we've made our own bed. We've got to fix it."

Fox said it has been a challenge to replace guard J.J. Frazier, an All-SEC selection as a senior and among the top 10 scorers in program history, and that inability may result in yet another Georgia basketball coaching regime that doesn't end well. The last Bulldogs coach to leave by his own choice was Tubby Smith, who is also the last Georgia coach with a recognized win in the NCAA tournament with his Sweet 16 run in 1996.

Jim Harrick's Bulldogs had a 2002 win in March Madness over Murray State vacated a year later as the result of NCAA sanctions.

"Obviously our confidence has been shaken," Fox said. "We played six of nine on the road (including a loss at Kansas State in the Big 12/SEC Challenge), and I think that got the best of us. Our confidence has been shaken, but it comes down to executing some fundamental things."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.