This time last week, McGarity issued a statement refuting Pat Forde’s report that UGA was "exploring its options to replace Mark Fox.”
That was understandable, we can’t know for sure if that was true or not. But Forde isn’t some cub reporter.
McGarity took it a step further, saying: “We look forward to Mark leading our program next year and all of our efforts are centered on postseason play”
That was not understandable, and there are several reasons why.
McGarity broke his self-imposed rule about not commenting on a program while it is in season. That’s his call, but it makes it harder for him to justify ignoring media requests regarding comments during the season in the future. If Kirby Smart gets off to a difficult season it stands to reason that folks are going to expect McGarity to speak about it, because he did about Fox.
Then the AD met with the team - assuring them their coach would return next winter. Maybe McGarity was trying to settle the team down. It had been through a lot with the loss of its top player after a second loss to Kentucky. Perhaps talking with the players was understandable had the news not been repeated to reporters. Once that happened it felt like McGarity was doubling down on his move to support Fox. He wasn’t just issuing a statement to the world, but also meeting with the team about his support. Those things combined are hard to back away from.
While he might have been trying to do the right thing, the problem is that McGarity isn’t a fortune teller. He doesn’t know what tomorrow brings any more than any of the rest of us. As it turns out, he gave a premature thumbs up for a program that was about to end the season by losing its final two games.
Nothing coming into Nashville gave any inkling that UGA was about to get right heading into post-season play. UGA narrowly escaped LSU and Auburn, two of the worst teams in the SEC, before the conference tournament. And, UGA defeated only four teams this calendar year with winning records (Vanderbilt, Auburn, Ole Miss and Alabama). That the Dawgs beat the Vols, but lost to Arkansas, Kentucky and Belmont shouldn’t be surprising considering the track record of these Dawgs coming into the final four games of the season.
The post-season results were, well, underwhelming. Then again, Mark Fox has two post-season wins in eight years of basketball at Georgia. Underwhelming has been an unfortunate reality.
Under Mark Fox UGA isn’t going to get much better or much worse. It just is.
He’s had average results. But what’s so odd is that much-better-than-average results got Mark Richt canned because he couldn't bring home an SEC or national title in a decade.
Fox has a .549 winning percentage in eight full seasons at UGA. That’s better than Dennis Felton (.480), who he replaced, but worse than Tubby Smith (.703) and Hugh Durham (.580). Its slightly better than Ron Jirsa's .538.
But Tubby and Durham were consistently in the NCAAs. They built a following. The same was the case with Jim Harrick. People cared about basketball. I was there, and Stegeman was a very scary place to play - ask Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia Tech and North Carolina.
By the time Harrick was dismissed, UGA was averaging just shy of 10,000 folks a home game. Stegeman was a place to be. In Fox’s eight years the Bulldogs have never averaged more than 8,250 in a season, and that happened only once. The combined average of the other seven seasons is lower than 7,000 per game - making home games look embarrassing because of how many sections of the upper deck have been without fans in seats.
Folks don’t care right now. A following hasn’t been built for any number of reasons, and that’s a major problem.
On the court? Too often this season we saw the offense relegated to hero ball. Sure, its fun to watch when the ball goes in, but hero ball led to inconsistent offensive play when this team needed it the most. How often did the offense fail at the close of games? Too often. Its the major reason the Dawgs had so many close losses rather than close wins.
And that, in turn, resulted in some miserable results at the end of the day. Still, close losses were made out by the broadcast media as some sort of achievement. Those folks (you know who you are Sean Farnham) ignored the close wins the Bulldogs had during the year (over Texas, LSU, Auburn and Tennessee twice) as they beat the drum in favor of Georgia’s near-impossible NCAA hopes.
All that considered: For the sixth time in eight tries, UGA didn’t make the NCAAs.
We knew going into the weekend that UGA was going to have to win the SECs to get into the NCAAs - anyone telling you otherwise is full of cupcakes and rainbows.
But that didn’t happen. And yet McGarity said Fox was coming back no matter what.
McGarity’s statement last week was premature. He should fully reassess the basketball program. This has to be considered one of the most disappointing seasons in a very long time at Georgia. The results of the 2016-17 season adds to a building apathy in Athens regarding basketball.
People don’t care.
Only one high-major program in the country has retained a coach who has lost more than 12 games each of the last eight years - Georgia.
Only one high-major program in the country has retained a coach the last eight years who has yet to win an NCAA Tournament game in that time at that particular institution - Georgia.
That inaction leads to an acknowledgment that UGA as an institution has a failure of imagination of what the basketball program in Athens can achieve. They are OK with being OK, and that's not fair to fans, and is an indictment of the leadership at UGA.
The error for McGarity wasn’t that he was quick to correct a report that he viewed or knew was incorrect. He also wasn’t in error backing a program he administers and wants to see succeed.
Where he got it wrong was making this assurance: “We look forward to Mark leading our program next year.”
If Georgia is truly committed to winning championships, as we have been told, is Mark Fox the person who is going to do that? If not, why is he returning?