Dealing with the Elephant

ATHENS – There's a lot of reaction to Mark Fox's contract extension (or restructuring) for the next four years. What we don't know, however, are the details.

That's because Greg McGarity didn't release or comment on those details on Wednesday – and told reporters no contract had been signed yet. In other words, McGarity and Fox have a non-signed agreement that will give Fox the stability he feels like he needs to recruit (four years is as long as any player who would sign this spring and in 2015 would realistically need) effectively this coming year.

Beyond that – we know nothing and nothing has been agreed to.

We don't know if Fox's contract has been restructured. We don't know the salary of the last two years of the contract. We don't know if assistant coaches have been given a pay bump. We don't know if the buyout structure of the deal has changed.

But there is a lot of guessing going on right now – and I'm not immune to that myself. People pay me to tell them what I know, and what I think. The known, it is pretty clear on this one, is unknown. So here is what I think:

I think the biggest mistake people are making in their assumption is that McGarity would agree to extend the contract Damon Evans signed with Fox when he signed him away from Nevada last decade without any changes.

That, I think, is nearly impossible to believe.

Fox's current contract (again, there is no contract signed thus far) ends on March 31, 2016. The agreed extension will likely now end on March 31, 2018. But the final two years on the contract will probably have little in common with 2014-15 and 2015-16 that stand right now.

Why do I assume that? I'm just looking at the adjustments that McGarity has made to contracts at Georgia of late. I want to be clear – Damon Evans was not a good AD… all you have to do is look around at some of the coaches he hired that are no longer at Georgia, the coaching contracts he entered into while at Georgia and the dive in athletic performance over his tenure as AD to understand that. Evans' failure at the position is important to remember as Fox's current contract is one of the few things left from his era in charge – this and that silly indoor meeting room that charades as an football indoor practice facility.

That's why McGarity, put simply, is in between a rock and a hard place on this one. Frankly, Fox is, too. Had McGarity pulled the trigger and fired Fox after this season he would have certainly taken heat from national basketball pundits (who always side the coaches anyway because that's where they get their gossip from) for firing a coach who "finished tied for second in the SEC" and who "is a good coach coaching up not-great talent".

Fine – but like politics, running athletic departments is local (and political, too, if we are being clear). Those national pundits are glossing over the fact that Fox has been to the NCAA tournament once in the last seven seasons as a head coach – once. But national guys drool for the coaches… always. Why, too, would you fire a coach when his team did finish third in the conference it plays in? Fox certainly didn't deserve to be fired after this past season.

In addition, relieving Fox of his duties would have resulted in a significant payout to him. Consider that Fox would have received a buyout of more than $3.2 million thanks to the contract he signed in 2009-10 and the straight up extension he got in 2010-11. Fox, if he wanted to leave, would owe Georgia about $2 million.

Both of those are silly situations to be in. McGarity, in my view, correctly thinks that if a coach doesn't want to be at a school that coach should leave. McGarity won't say it, but he knows that Georgia is Georgia… and you don't leave Georgia for a slew of reasons – most notably the recruiting base and pay. God bless anyone who would really leave Athens for Pullman, Washington – where the average low temperature during basketball season struggles to get above freezing… if anyone is that crazy they need not be coaching at Georgia.

"Life's too short. If someone wants to move on, I have no problem with that," McGarity told the Athens Banner-Herald's Marc Weiszer two summers ago when he and Mark Richt agreed to a restructured contract

And one has to pay close attention to Richt's restructured contract from before the 2012 season. After all, Richt is quite obviously the most important coach at Georgia. If McGarity took his contract and restructured it why wouldn't he do the same with Fox's? Lest we forget Richt has been drastically more successful at his job as Fox has at his.

Again, according to Weiszer's reporting in the ABH: "The money Georgia will owe Richt if it fires him without cause also will decrease during the length of the deal. It's $4.8 million if he is fired after the 2012 season, but that number decreases to $2.4 million after the 2013 season, to $1.6 million after the 2014 season and $800,000 after the 2015 season."

Fox's current deal (again, he's not signed anything yet) doesn't decrease over time. Are we to believe that Richt, who has all of the leverage in the world, would agree to a restructured agreement, but that Fox, who has very little leverage with three losing seasons in five and one appearance in the NCAAs in a half decade, would not agree to that same sort of structure?

Of course not – yes, this will be an extension, but that ignores the fact that the contract will almost certainly be restructured and may well be completely new. And in doing so McGarity, in my view, is taking away any excuse for failure in the men's basketball program. I/we don't know that yet, but that's what's going to happen, and McGarity is doing his job and fulfilling his fiduciary responsibility in doing so.

I don't doubt that this news will help Fox on the recruiting trail – that's the entire point; this is a recruiting announcement. Coaches in the conference have been saying that Fox is going to be fired for two years now – that doesn't help in the recruiting wars. That argument won't be so convenient to use any more for Georgia's foes.

Recruits will see the headline that Fox got an extension as one less thing to worry about with Georgia – after all, he's going to be there four more years. The firepower that was "Mark Fox is going to get fired" has been taken away from other coaches' weaponry. You know by reading this article that Fox could very well leave or be fired after next season – I can assure you that no basketball recruit is going to say that at all (trust me, I am not that well-read in the basketball recruiting community).

So recruiting should come together better now – at least that's the case McGarity is making. When asked about recruiting he said:

"That's the responsibility of the head coach. Coach (Fox) knows what needs to be done. We need to recruit at a very high level because you have to continually restock every year. That is a very important point. We did talk about that. Needless to say sometimes that is the elephant in the room. We realize what needs to be done, but our staff stands ready to assist in any way," McGarity said.

The extension, McGarity added "puts to rest any questions when you are talking to a recruit about how long you are going to be around. This (new agreement) takes that off the table. We thought it would be important with recruiting to go ahead, and do it at this time."

McGarity, basically, did exactly what he needed to do. He gave Fox the cover he needed in recruiting. He's said publically, in a non-aggressive manner, that recruiting needs to improve. In his words, McGarity said: "Anybody would hope that when Mark signed his first contract that at the end of that six-year period that we were competing at a high level. We competed on a high level this year… not as high as we wanted to. Now we need to start stacking success upon success. I am sure we will be picked high. Our ultimate goal is to get into the show (NCAA Tournament)."

The path seems pretty clear. Mark Fox needs not just a good season next year, but a birth in the NCAAs to fell pretty comfortable about his future in Athens – extension, restructuring or whatever is going on with this "extension". McGarity said he wouldn't issue an ultimatum on next season: "Is (getting into the NCAAs) the final determining factor? You never go to a coach and say ‘if this doesn't happen, or else you are gone.' I think that handcuffs a coach."

No, you don't say that to a coach, and you certainly don't broadcast that to the world (talk about undermining a coach). But what McGarity did on Wednesday was do the best he could given the circumstances he was given. As he put it: "Our staff stands ready to assist in any way."

With a four-year term on the way – it seems clear the rest is up to Fox.

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