ATHENS, Ga. — During the search process for a new men’s basketball coach, Georgia athletic director Damon Evans said he wanted a coach to engage the fans — something Dennis Felton failed to do on a regular basis.
Mark Fox, who was formally introduced as Felton’s replacement Friday, plans a different approach, but in the hours after news of his hiring broke, most fans weren’t even sure who he was.
During the interview process, however, Evans said he was convinced Fox had what it takes to rally the long dormant base of Georgia basketball fans.
“You can’t have success without the support of the Bulldog Nation, and he understood that, expressed interest in wanting to get out and meet people,” Evans said. “He also wants engage former basketball student-athletes, the alums.”
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Fox brings an impressive record to Athens — 123-43 in five years at Nevada — but it’s that interaction with the fans and alumni that make him more than simply a head coach, Evans said.
“A leader of the program has to truly be the face of the program, and that doesn’t mean just sitting in an office and doing X’s and O’s,” Evans said.
The job of turning around the program, however, doesn’t begin and end with Fox.
During the past several weeks, Evans and the search firm he hired spoke with numerous candidates around the country, and the overwhelming response they received was that Georgia was a sleeping giant, a job that could be great with the proper dedication from the athletic department.
So when Evans offered Fox the job, the offer came with a promise as well. Evans said building the basketball program into a national contender is the ultimate goal, and Fox won’t be without the resources to make that happen. Although no plans have been officially approved yet, Evans said he hopes to renovate Stegeman Coliseum, expanding the concourses, knocking out walls and replacing them with glass, creating a more modern look similar to the new practice facility that sits adjacent to the old arena.
Fox had one regret Friday. He didn’t get time to say goodbye to the place he called home for most of the past 10 years.
Fox spent about 90 minutes at Nevada on Thursday night, mostly talking to his former players, and then he was off on yet another flight, back to Athens, where he would be introduced as the new head coach of Georgia’s men’s basketball team.
“When you leave a place that you love, it’s very hard,” Fox said. “But when you find a place that looks so terrific, it’s easier to go, and we found that with Georgia.”
It’s a long way from Reno, Nev., to Athens. Fox’s wife and children will stay behind and finish out the semester, and Fox will have his work cut out for him at Georgia from Day 1. Several players have announced they plan to transfer. Others said they were considering it. The roster was already low on talent and chock full of players who have spent the better part of the past two years wondering how long their current coach would remain with the team or when the new coach would be hired.
“You look at the last month-and-a-half, and they were uncertain of their future,” Fox said. “That can lead to some frustrating moments, I’m sure.”