Georgia’s surge during Southeastern Conference play has Mark Fox being talked about for league Coach of the Year honors at the same time his name can be found on national lists of coaches considered on the hot seat.
The Bulldogs enter today’s soldout 4 p.m. game at Arkansas in third place in the SEC, two games ahead of the Razorbacks and three other teams, and well ahead of expectations set when the Bulldogs were picked to finish 11th in the media preseason poll.
Georgia (16-11, 10-5 SEC) still needs a strong finish, including probably beating Kentucky or Florida in the SEC tournament, to crack the NCAA tournament with an at-large bid.
The Bulldogs have won six of their last seven games, but Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity isn’t addressing Fox’s job status beyond this season yet.
“I’m really not going to talk about any of that stuff until the season’s over,” McGarity said. “I just don’t talk about performance reviews or anything during the season. It’s like the dreaded vote of confidence. I don’t want to mess things up right now. The time to comment is once the season’s over with really in any sport.”
Fox, for his part, said his attention is devoted to the next game.
“I don’t spend any time thinking about that,” Fox said. “I’m just trying to focus on coaching our team. That’s just the absolute truth.”
Fox is 81-74 in his five seasons at Georgia with one postseason appearance in 2011 in the NCAA tournament. Georgia is in position to make the NIT this year and plans to submit paperwork to host a game in case it isn’t in the NCAA tournament.
When asked if he feels like he’s done enough to return next season, Fox would say only: “We’re just making sure we stay focused on the task at hand.”
Fox has two years remaining on a contract that pays him $1.7 million annually that was extended in 2011.
McGarity said before the season when talking about Fox that he wanted “to have a sense that you’re going in the right direction and that you’re continually improving.”
That can go beyond just wins and losses, but Fox sees progress for a team that started 6-6 and has more wins overall and in SEC play than it did last season.
“We just keep getting better,” Fox said. “That’s been a focus of this group from Day One. Let’s get better every day, every week and they’ve been invested in that process.”
Other factors that could weigh into Fox’s future are recruiting, the Bulldogs’ performance in the classroom and home attendance.
Fox has a reputation of being adept with the Xs and Os aspect of coaching but has been unable to make many inroads on the recruiting trail at Georgia, where the Bulldogs have come up short when trying to land elite prospects except for McDonald’s All-American Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who became an NBA lottery pick.
The Bulldogs four-player recruiting class brought in last year consisted of three-star guards Juwan Parker and J.J. Frazier, lightly recruited Kenny Paul Geno and junior college transfer Cameron Forte.
Georgia only has one scholarship for its current recruiting class.
The Bulldogs are due to lose only one player — senior starting center Donte’ Williams.
Top in-state talent Jakeenan Gant signed with Missouri for the 2014 class. Top-50 2015 prospect Turtle Jackson, a guard from Athens Christian, committed to Connecticut.
Fox was at a state playoff game Thursday night, according to Rivals.com, to see top 50 2015 prospects Jaylen Brown and Daniel Giddens from Wheeler.
“It’s always a focus,” Fox said of recruiting. “You’re always trying to get better at everything you do. I think player development is important, recruiting is important. All that stuff, you’re trying to get better at it all every day.”
Off the court, Fox’s team ranked in the top 10 percent nationally in the NCAA Academic Progress Rate’s last year, showing significant improvement from before Fox was hired.
With one home game to go, Georgia ranks 12th of 14 SEC teams in attendance at 6,514 per game, ahead of only Auburn and Texas A&M. That’s ahead of last year’s average of 6,198 when Georgia ranked 13th.
Season-ticket sales — 3,538 — this season were the lowest since 2008-09 — when student season tickets were last included in the totals. They’ve dipped from 3,994 in 2011-12.
“I think there’s a level of support that’s going to be there through thick and thin,” McGarity said. “What we have not been able to capitalize on is capturing a percentage of the student body to come on a consistent basis.”
Georgia has averaged 1,047 students per game this year, up from 762 last year.
Students showed up well for a Jan. 29 home game against Vanderbilt when they were admitted to the game for free on a day when there was inclement weather. Georgia offered free admission again for students for the final three home games, including Wednesday against Mississippi State. But the Missouri game last Tuesday drew a total attendance of only 5,229.
It was a late game with a 9 p.m. tip, but it was the most attractive SEC game on the home schedule given that Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee didn’t come to Athens this season.
GEORGIA AT ARKANSAS
When/Where: 4 p.m. today/Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville, Ark.
TV/Radio: SEC-TV/The Ref 960-AM
Records: Georgia is 16-11, 10-5 SEC; Arkansas is 19-9, 8-7 SEC.