I have a hard time imagining a scenario in which Mark Fox coaches Georgia next season (or next week), but there are some logistical issues. The Bulldogs figure to get an NIT bid Sunday night. Do they fire Fox on Sunday morning? Do they accept the bid, then fire him, then extend the option of coaching his team in the second-rate tournament?
We saw something similar with Georgia Tech and Brian Gregory two years ago. The Yellow Jackets fell short of the NCAA tournament, for the first time in five seasons under Gregory, won enough to make the NIT. Mike Bobinski, then Tech’s athletic director, stayed his hand until after his team lost, which took three games.
After Josh Pastner was hired, I asked Bobinski what would have happened if Tech kept going. Had the Jackets won at San Diego State – they already had routed South Carolina in Columbia – they would have been bound for Madison Square Garden and the semis. Wouldn’t it have been hard to fire a coach who had just cut down some nets?
Bobinski said he would have made the same decision no matter what. I’m not sure Greg McGarity – assuming he opts to change coaches, which I believe he will – cares to risk such a complication. For one thing, coach-hiring season is upon us. You can’t in good conscience interview replacements for a job that isn’t open. (I mean, this isn’t Auburn football.)
For another, McGarity just went through something similar with Mark Richt. The Faton Bauta loss in Jacksonville pretty much sealed that deal, but Georgia still had four games to play. It won them all – against Kentucky, Auburn, Georgia Southern in overtime and Tech. I’ve always believed that much of the backlash McGarity felt after firing a well-liked coach was that the dismay/anger over that Florida loss had dissipated a bit. Fox is well-liked, too.
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There’s thought that Georgia would decline an NIT bid. (LSU did that two years ago after Ben Simmons’ one collegiate season was a raging dud.) The NCAA’s Jeff Williams, who works with the NIT, offered this in an email Saturday:
“No team is ‘required’ to participate in the NIT. We have received agreements from all teams that are being considered and the agreement indicates the team’s intention to play if selected and requires that, if invited, it will not participate in any other event (i.e., CBI or CIT). Georgia is a team for which we have received a signed agreement.”
Meaning: If Georgia is invited to the NIT, it cannot pick one of the lesser tournaments instead – but it can say no to the NIT. But would that be fair to the players, who always want to keep playing? (Ask Georgia assistant Jonas Hayes, who with his brother, Jarvis, protested on Michael Adams’ lawn when the 2003 Bulldogs were pulled from postseason after Tony Cole went public.)
I’d be surprised if Georgia turns down the NIT. I also would be surprised if it hasn’t acted on Fox by the time the first NIT game is played. I’d be further surprised if Fox, given the option, opts to coach the team through the tournament. It would be coach-hiring season for him, too. (Richt said he would coach Georgia in its bowl; he got hired by Miami three days later.)
Last point: For those few who are saying, “Give Fox one more chance” ... isn’t that how Georgia got to Year 9 with no NCAA tournament wins to show for it? And this “one more chance” wouldn’t just be one more year. Fox’s contract has two seasons remaining. In collegiate sports, that’s the rough equivalent of being a lame duck, which means your recruiting pitch is diluted. To keep this coach and to be fair to him, Georgia would have to extend his contract. In sum, it would need to reward him for taking the SEC’s player of the year and missing the Big Dance.
I can’t see that happening. I figure Georgia will be seeking a new coach within 48 hours.