McGarity: Basketball is "Relevant" Again

ATHENS – Before the brackets were unveiled, Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity had a message for Mark Fox, his men's basketball coach.

Fox was anxious over whether his team would make the NCAA tournament, but McGarity felt something had already been accomplished.

"What you've got to look at it is the big picture," McGarity said he told Fox. "Whether you're in or out, we've kind of made a huge step in our program by being relevant. And to be relevant you have to play in the postseason."

As it turned out, Georgia didn't have to settle for the NIT. It will open play in the NCAA tournament on Friday against Washington, with a potential next matchup against second-seeded North Carolina.

Three years ago the Bulldogs made the NCAAs, but that was after an unexpected run to the SEC tournament title. The last at-large berth came nine years ago, and was later vacated. Since then the team has undergone two coaching changes, with Fox being hired two years ago by previous athletics director Damon Evans.

Fox opened his post-selection press conference Sunday night by thanking Evans, McGarity and school president Michael Adams.

McGarity was hired last August to replace Evans. While football drives the train at Georgia, McGarity's background at Florida – which won consecutive NCAA titles while he was there – makes him aware of the process it takes to become a factor in basketball. And it starts with the drive to the NCAAs.

"That's the goal of any program when you're really starting over, and you've gone through so many years of not really being in the position to go to a postseason," McGarity said. "The amount of pressure builds up as you get closer to (the tournament.) Players have friends telling them what they need to do to make it. People tell them you've got to win this game, you've got to win that game.

"I think being able to handle that is part of the growth process of the program. Not just for coaches but for everyone. To have a program established, you've got to kind of break that door down. And playing in that tournament. You've got to kind of get over that hump."

There is one hazard with improvement in a program: Other schools might come after your coach.

Fox is signed at Georgia through March 31, 2015. His contract calls for him to earn $1.2 million annually, with incentives that could reach up to $400,000.

Fox got a bonus of $25,000 for reaching the tournament. He'll get another $25,000 if they reach the Sweet 16, then $50,000 more if they get to the Final Four, and $50,000 more if they win the title.

McGarity said any discussions of a contract extension or raise for Fox would come after the season, but intimated that he would make sure to show the coach his support. "We've had some conversations before the year ever started about the future of our program. Consistent goals, consistent future plans," McGarity said. "I think you always have to worry about that (other schools targeting your coach), but you want to make sure you're proactive rather than reactive."

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