Athens, GA - There’s a popular term around Athens, Georgia these days that also stretches as far as the Georgia Bulldog footprint reaches: “Fire Mark Fox.”
But could the job of the head coach of the oftentimes struggling UGA men’s basketball team be safer than we all think? Like, much safer? Let me explain.
I took the time to read an article from Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports in which he cites his sources regarding what could happen once details emerge in the ongoing FBI investigations into seemingly countless NCAA basketball programs both major and not. The article is terrifying for many living around states like Kentucky, North Carolina, Alabama, Pennsylvania, etc., and not because programs in those states are specifically named, but rather language that speculates so many of the top schools in contention today are eventually going to be outed as some of the most corrupt in a sport that is widely considered one of the most corrupt in all of sports.
A fun line from one of Thamel’s sources in the article states - and I paraphrase - ‘If the findings are released before the NCAA Tournament, then Tennessee-Chattanooga could be a No. 2 seed come March.’ That’s a clever way of saying that nobody is safe, and apparently many at the top are indeed about to be in really, really hot water.
This is where the UGA basketball program and coach Mark Fox come into play, at least in my mind. If anybody cares to make a wager with me, I would be more than willing to agree to do something extremely embarrassing or degrading if it ever comes to light that the UGA basketball program is in trouble with the FBI or the NCAA. I have been around the program long enough and know the hierarchy of UGA Athletics well enough to feel extremely confident that UGA fans can sleep easy the night before these FBI findings are released - which could be any day, it could be as long as a year from now. We just don’t know.
UGA has struggled lately, yes. I’ve watched spurts of basketball taking place in Stegeman Coliseum and on other courts around the SEC that I am not convinced could score more points than Clarke Central High School. But I’ve also seen spurts that look like the NCAA Tournament contender we all expected going into this season put together good wins (yes, plural) against Florida, Marquette, Alabama, St. Mary’s, and Georgia Tech. But the on-court performances have little to nothing to do with my new theory on the status of Mark Fox in Athens.
I believe every program in the NCAA should be playing “wait and see.” I know Ole Miss just fired its head coach Andy Kennedy after bringing the Rebels (no, Black Bears, wait - I think it’s still Rebels) close to the NCAA Tournament many times over a decade, invited in twice and another six times into the NIT, but never able to take the program over the hurdle to being a national contender. Does that sound familiar? Dawg fans? I thought so. But what if - hear me out - Ole Miss already knows something we don’t know about the FBI investigations. You don’t have to look too far into former football coaches phone records and other major allegations to remember that Ole Miss isn't writing any books on morality and how to do things the right way these days.
What if Georgia pulled the trigger and fired Mark Fox after a disappointing finish to this season, then went and hired some up-and-coming young coach or even a veteran many will hope brings a culture of winning with them to Athens? Is it honestly worth the risk locking a coach into a new contract that may soon have their name plastered in the headlines with “FBI Investigation Reveals...” next to it? Again, you’d like to think the vetting of a new coach would be thorough, but the ominous tone of sources who know how dark the cloud over NCAA Basketball is about to be leads one to wonder if any move is worth the risk. Flat out and simply put - nobody. knows. how. bad. this. could. get.
Thamel’s article also cites sources who thoroughly believe the landscape of college basketball, its recruiting, and as stated “lottery pick players’” eligibility could be rocked and realigned. It leaves one to wonder just how impactful it could be for a program like Georgia, that consistently sits on the proverbial “bubble” of being good, but is flat out being beaten by better teams. Oh, and recruiting is already good right now in Athens. Very good. With commitments from a pair of the state of Georgia’s best in the 2018 class, and what many are saying will be one of Mark Fox’s best recruits ever in a 2019 commitment from 5-star point guard Ashton Hagans out of Covington, Ga, there’s legitimate hope in the talent department. And many will quickly point out that talent hasn’t always been a problem for Fox, but do you need a refresher on players from the state of Georgia that have been lured to major programs out of state with what may actually have been lures too good to pass up - you know what I’m sayin’? Sure, that’s all speculation at this point but the tea leaves are currently reading that something just ain’t right.
If my inner-Nostradmous proves to be true and Georgia is safe when the FBI findings are eventually released, then Georgia could instantaneously become a safe school in the eyes of a lot of talent looking to play college hoops. Especially in the talent-rich back yard between Cloudland Canyon and Jekyll Island and Bainbridge and Hartwell. So while the UGA basketball team will likely look bad a few more times this season, and in all likelihood have a short trip to St. Louis next month for the SEC Basketball Tournament, think about the big picture of college basketball as your little fingers tweet the popular phrase these days calling for Fox’s job. Because I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a situation being monitored on many levels, not just in terms of wins and loses. But more like the FBI.
Let it all soak in, why don’t ya.
**Shameless plug time!: Check out my new podcast “The Second String Podcast” which I do with our sister station 106.1 Your Georgia Country’s Morning Show host Walker. We are just two guys who wish we were famous sports radio personalities talking sports. You can listen by clicking the link to the Podcast on this website’s On Demand tab. Thanks!