Han Vance on Georgia basketball: It’s all over. Mark Fox is on the job market, and A.D. Greg McGarity heads up a national search for a replacement.
Honestly, this is an only marginally attractive, at best, place to coach basketball. The little coliseum has been refreshed and there is young, long talent in the program, which gained experience this season. But, the winning tradition is not in place historically.
With no league titles and no NCAA tournament wins and only two such entrants at all, Fox’s resume remains better at (currently ranked) Nevada than it ever was in Georgia. He made the tournament his final three years in the Silver State.
While the surging SEC was not our league to win, with tough teams suddenly evolving at fellow football-program-heavy schools, Auburn and Tennessee, and with Kentucky and Florida consistently superior overall hoops products to Georgia basketball every year. Sweeping Florida was not enough to compete in-league.
With a 10-2 start, best in the nine-year Fox tenure, this appeared the year to make a run. Winning just seven league games in-season forced McGarity’s hand, though. Seeing bubble teams projected in with just one or two total wins more than a Georgia team that won two games in the SEC tourney in St. Louis, Fox must realize that simply winning any more couple of games this season would have saved his job. He simply failed, as the shots he needed his players to make didn’t drop.
McGarity got it right in hiring Kirby, although thousands of people could have made that call. I tagged Kirby publicly as the only real potential replacement for Richt – the then-winningest coach in school history (74% at UGA, Kirby is 75%) – when Richt suffered a bad skid and losing record the year A.J. Green was suspended. That was Aaron Murray’s frosh year, to show you how long we all knew someday Kirby was coming home. McGarity has his critics, to say the least.
Georgia’s best four-year player in school history, SEC Player of the Year Yante Maten, has been off solid foods after taking a hard shot to the jaw. Couple in a leg injury, that was not enough to keep him off the court, he was totally ineffective in our third straight SEC tourney game. Another bouncing by the Big Blue, their fourth such over UGA in five years of league tourneys, it was Georgia’s eleventh straight loss to Kentucky. The Dawgs haven’t beaten them at all in half a decade. We are no Kentucky. And the game, with Maten ineffective, felt like a never-going-to-happen preview of Fox in Athens in 2019.
Fox did coach the only ever three-year run of twenty or more consecutive victories at UGA. They slipped to nineteen wins last season, with no NCAA since Michigan State bounced the Dogs in 2015 (other in 2011). It was clearly Big Dance or bust for the Hoop Hounds. Bust.
Look for Tom Crean or Thad Matta to take the job in Athens. Crean coached at Indiana and had lots of success at Marquette, including the NCAA 2003 Final Four. He averaged twenty wins per year there from 1999-2008, then was at IU during the 2008-2017 time period. Not winning too big at Indiana – who has the storied history – is not a great credential to suggest he will win at Georgia. He’s just a 60% career coach, but his Indiana did win the tough Big Ten outright twice in a four-year window through 2016; Crean was league coach of the year.
Another Big Ten guy, Thad Matta is the winningest coach in Ohio State history. He won the Big Ten tournament in 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2013 and made the Final Four in 2007 and 2012. Crean may be the more interested in the job of the two, already expressing high interest. While Matta has the better overall resume. Matta coached a then-emerging Xavier from 2001-2004, before moving up to the bigger conference and is a 74% career winner.