With it now all but official that Georgia will be parting ways with mens basketball coach Mark Fox, it’s probably worthwhile to start compiling a list of potential replacements. The Georgia job is an interesting animal. UGA is a university with the ability to push serious resources into the program. However it has a checkered record of actually doing so. Athens sits only a stone’s throw from one of the top basketball recruiting hotbeds in America (Atlanta), but Red and Black coaches have a historically abysmal record of keeping that top talent instate.
Especially over the past two years Fox had begun to turn the tide in recruiting, but has been unable to put a consistent team on the court. This season was a microcosm of the Fox era in some ways. With eventual league player of the year Yante Maten announcing he’d return for his senior season expectations were high coming into 2017-18. The Hoop Hounds matched those expectations early, going 11-3 to start the season and earning quality wins over St. Mary’s, Marquette, and Alabama.
Then, as it often seemed to do from game to game and even half to half under Fox, the wheels fell off. The ‘Dawgs dropped eight out of ten games in a disastrous stretch of conference play that appears to have been the beginning of the end for the Fox era.
What will Georgia be looking for in a replacement? That’s an excellent question. The tempting answer, and probably the most accurate one, is “the best coach they can get.”
It’s a really bad time to be looking for a college basketball coach for a variety of reasons. One is the ongoing FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball. The truth is that there are a lot of good assistant basketball coaches out there who don’t have clean hands. If you’ve had no exposure to it, trust me, college basketball recruiting is a dirty business and has been for decades. And there are a lot of assistant coaches out there who’ve either been active participants or looked the other way in an effort to pay the bills.
That means that there are likely coaches out there who look like options from the outside who Greg McGarity and his staff will have been warned not to touch, or know better than to count on to stay free of a show-cause order. The nightmare scenario involves hiring a coach only to find out the FBI has him on tape trying to buy the services of a point guard before he’s coached a game. It’s a real possibility, one which McGarity and crew are certainly aware of.
Another issue is that there appear to be a number of good jobs available. Even with NCAA trouble Louisville is a great job. Pittsburgh has historically been a strong basketball program. UConn is a traditional power looking to return to form. Even in the SEC Georgia will be competing with Ole Miss, a school that will likely be pursuing some of the same candidates.
So with those caveats, who will the powers that be in Athens want to talk to? The candidates break down roughly into two categories.
The Names You Know (Or Should)
There are a number of veteran college head coaches available out there who might get a call. Former Ohio State coach Thad Matta has already shown interest in the Ole Miss job, and I would assume he’d be a candidate in Athens as well. Matta stepped down a couple of years ago after a successful run at tOSU for health reasons, but looks interested in getting back in the game. I expect he’ll listen to a lot of offers and have his pick in light of a long record of success first at the mid major level then in the Big Ten. Also worth remembering, Matta’s brother Greg coaches at North Cobb Christian.
Another of the old hands out there looking to get back in the saddle is former Indiana coach Tom Crean. Crean became something of a meme for the Hoosiers before an unceremonious exit. But he did take them to three Sweet Sixteens first. For some reason I have a little trouble seeing the cantankerous Crean succeeding in the Classic City. But he would deliver immediate name recognition on the recruiting trail and has a solid track record.
Iowa State’s Steve Prohm is not as well known nationally as Matta or Crean, but he’s an experienced major college coach with a record of success. Prohm, a native of Dalton and graduate of Northwest Whitfield High, played collegiately at Oglethorpe for a year before transferring to Alabama, where he served as a student assistant. The 43 year old has a 161-58 career record with a stop at Murray State before he took the job at Ames. In a bit of a rebuilding year Prohm’s team won’t be making the Big Dance. But his first two teams at Iowa State advanced to the Sweet Sixteen and the Round of 32.
A wildcard in this category, but one that would make a major statement, would be Xavier’s Chris Mack. Mack has made the NCAA Tournament seven times in his nine seasons (eight once the Musketeers hear their name called tomorrow). They’ve advanced past the first round all but once, and to the Sweet Sixteen or further four times. A former assistant to the late Skip Prosser at Wake Forest, Mack has experience recruiting the southeast and is as proven a winner as you’ll find who isn’t coaching a traditional power.
And that may be the rub. Mack is rumored to have turned down a huge ($4 million/year) offer to take the Georgetown job last year and instead signed a $1.4 million per year extension through 2022-23. But if McGarity could swing it (again, big if), Mack would be a homerun hire.
Most of Georgia’s recent basketball hires have been coaches plucked from the mid-major level after building a track record of success. That’s generally been a good model, but it doesn’t work every time. If the ‘Dawgs want to go this route there are some interesting options.
A name that’s been floating around a good bit over the past couple of days is that of College of Charleston head coach Earl Grant. Grant played his college ball in Milledgeville at Georgia College & State University (GC&SU for the initiated). Grant’s squad just earned an NCAA tournament bid after completing their second straight 25 win season after going only 9-24 in Grant’s first campaign. Prior to leading the Cougars Grant served as an assistant under Gregg Marshall at Wichita State and Brad Brownell at Clemson. At Clemson Grant recruited a couple of future NBA players (K.J. McDaniels and Jaron Blossomgame).
While there are no guarantees, Grant looks like a guy who could grow into the role at Georgia. There’s every reason to believe the 41 year old from North Charleston would build on Fox’s recruiting momentum, and that he’d bring a brand of disciplined, hard-nosed basketball to Athens.
Another potential candidate is UNC-Ashville’s Nick McDevitt. The 38 year old has led his alma mater to three straight 20+ win seasons. But he’s never played or coached anywhere but UNC-Ashville. That means both that he may be reluctant to leave and that he hasn’t shown his philosophy and methods to be replicable in the Power 5. I cannot imagine this hire would really excite the fanbase.
In a similar vein, UNC Greensboro’s Wes Miller recently guided his team to their second 25+ win season and a berth in the Big Dance. But his team was sub .500 for the first five years of his tenure. Greg McGarity doesn’t have the luxury of going backward on this hire. So unless he feels strongly about what the former UNC guard can do, I don’t see him taking this risk.
The Off The Board Options
It’s also worth noting that the firing season is really just getting started, so it’s possible there are other folks who are gainfully employed now who could emerge. There are also names from the rolls of NBA assistants, for example, who could be looking to get into the college game. It’s hard to know exactly where Greg McGarity will look for this hire. We do know however that his last major hire raised the standards in Athens significantly. And that if the next guy doesn’t surpass Fox’s performance, McGarity will be the one expected to answer for it.