The wins are hard to come by.
Attendance in Stegeman Coliseum is on the slide.
The fourth season at Georgia for coach Mark Fox has created some discontent among fans, who can only hope the Bulldogs’ first SEC victory last Saturday against LSU is a sign of things to come.
The questions posed to Fox: Should four years be considered enough time for him to have built a foundation? Or given the program’s history lacking sustained success, should there be a different standard?
“I will tell you that when I was offered this job, the first contract offer I declined because it wasn’t long enough,” said Fox, whose team hosts No. 8 Florida tonight. “I didn’t think it was the right time frame, not to have a good team but to be completely rebuilt and established. I never really put a time frame on it and I’m not ready to do so now.”
Fox got a six-year contract when he was hired by then-athletic director Damon Evans in April of 2009. He makes $1.7 million annually in a deal that now runs through the end of the 2015-16 season after getting a $400,000 pay raise and a one-year extension in April 2011. That came after he guided his second Bulldogs team to its first NCAA tournament at-large berth since 2002.
Fox is 57-56 at Georgia, and after a 7-10 start, appears headed for his third losing season in four years after taking over a program that went 12-20 the season before he arrived. Fox went 123-43 at Nevada.
He already was in Athens when athletic director Greg McGarity came to Georgia from Florida, where he saw the Gators winning with stability atop its program under Billy Donovan, now in his 17th season in Gainesville.
Georgia is now on its fifth head coach since Hugh Durham, the prorgram’s all-time winningest coach, was fired in 1995 after 17 seasons.
Since then, Tubby Smith (two seasons), Ron Jirsa (two seasons), Jim Harrick (four seasons) and Dennis Felton (dismissed during his sixth season) and Fox have had a turn coaching the Bulldogs.
“I know Mark Fox and his staff are committed to building a program the right way,” McGarity said Tuesday. “There are no corners that will be cut. We will not live in the gray area from a compliance standpoint, from a recruiting standpoint. The way the program is conducted is outstanding. I don’t think there’s been a situation where Mark or his staff have embarrassed the university. They are so well-respected in the college basketball world. That’s a very positive part of our program.”
Georgia’s all-time winning percentage ranks 13th among the current 14 SEC programs. The Bulldogs are 490-726 all-time in SEC play with one regular-season conference championship.
Recruiting with that history continues to be difficult. Georgia has landed just one McDonald’s All-American out of high school since 1992 — guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a sophomore who is fourth in the SEC in scoring.
“Something that we’ve struggled with at this school for 20 or 25 years isn’t going to be cured over night,” Fox said on his radio show last month. “Ultimately, we’ve got to get a group of guys that are just so damn tough that they’ll fight through it all and win those games to attract more fans and more recruits.”
Georgia is averaging 5,560 fans per game in Stegeman Coliseum, the third lowest in the Southeastern Conference..
It is likely to finish with its lowest home attendance since the 2004-05 season.
“It’s obviously a concern,” McGarity said. “I think winning cures a lot of attendance problems. … You see that in sports across the board right now.”
Georgia was averaging 7,246 at this stage two years ago when the Bulldogs had a tournament-bound team. That number dipped to 6,342 last year at this point. A crowd of about 8,000 is expected tonight.
The crowds came out two years ago before juniors Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie both entered the NBA draft.
“Here’s what you have to understand: We took over a situation, and we put together a better team in the second year and then we had two guys leave early,” Fox said. “It’s almost like we have to rebuild it again.”
Fox pointed out that Georgia doesn’t have a long history of early departures to the NBA. The others: Dominique Wilkins, Jumaine Jones and Jarvis Hayes.
This season’s Georgia team is starting two freshmen and a sophomore.
“They’re playing some new faces, so to speak,” Florida’s Donovan said. “There’s some parts to their team that are young, but overall Mark Fox is a terrific coach, a terrific person, and regardless of their struggles, I’m not in their program to know all the ins and outs as much as Mark does, but I know watching them on film, competing against their teams, they’re as well-coached and as well-prepared as any team we’ll play against.”
That hasn’t translated to as many wins as some fans would like. Fox is building for the future and hoping to win along the way and is less concerned about criticism.
“I don’t worry about the outside,” Fox said. “I’ve got to do what’s best for this team and this program in the long haul. And that’s all I’ll ever do. …I don’t pay attention to anyone on the outside. Everyone has all the answers and no solutions, and you can’t please everybody. We’re going to do what’s right. We got it squared away once. We can do it again.”
No. 8 Florida at Georgia
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Stegeman Coliseum
TV: SEC Network (Peachtree TV)
Radio: WRFC 960-AM
Records: Florida is 14-2, 4-0 SEC; Georgia is 7-10, 1-3 SEC.
Season at a glance: Florida has won six straight and looks every bit like a favorite to win the SEC and be a Final Four contender. The Gators dismantled a top-20 Missouri team 83-52 on Saturday, three days after the Tigers beat Georgia by 17. Florida has won each of its past five games by 21 or more points. In a scheduling quirk, the Gators and Bulldogs meet just two week after Florida’s 77-44 rout in Gainesville, Fla. Georgia won its first SEC game on Saturday night, 67-58, against LSU behind 14 points from Donte’ Williams and 22 points and six steals from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. That win snapped a three-game losing streak.
Probable starting lineups: Florida: G Kenny Boynton (6-2, 190, Sr., 13.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg); G Mike Rosario (6-3, 183, R-Sr., 12.5 ppg, 2.3 apg); G Scottie Wilbekin (6-2, 176, Jr, 8.3 ppg, 4.9 apg.); F Erik Murphy (6-10, 238, Jr., 12.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg); C Patric Young (6-9, 249, Jr., 11.4 ppg. 6.5 rpg). Georgia: G Charles Mann (6-4, 205, Fr., 5.7 ppg, 2.6 apg); G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (6-5, 205, So., 17.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg ); F: Brandon Morris (6-7, 205, Fr., 4.0 ppg, 1.9 rpg); F Donte’ Williams (6-9, 225, Jr., 6.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg); C John Florveus (6-11, 240, Sr., 2.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg);
Series record: Florida leads 107-99, including 16 of the last 19. The Bulldogs lead 62-36 in Athens, including three of the last four. The Gators are 9-6 in Athens under Billy Donovan.
Last meeting: The Gators romped over the Bulldogs 77-44 on Jan. 9 in Gainesville. Florida hit 12 3-pointers. Georgia played without Donte’ Williams and Kenny Gaines, who served one-game suspensions. Georgia had 19 turnovers.
Noteworthy: Georgia sophomore forward Nemanja Djurisic was sporting two black eyes on Tuesday, but Fox said that he did not break his nose when he took a hit to his face at the end of Saturday’s game. He has worn a protective mask in practice and Djurisic said he might wear one during the game. “It’s kind of hard to play with, so I might just take it off,” he said. …Florida is No. 6 in the NCAA official RPI, the only team in the SEC in the top 25. Georgia has moved up to No. 184 from 214 last week. …. Gators coach Billy Donovan won his 400th game at Florida on Saturday. He’s the third coach to win that many games at an SEC school after Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp and LSU’s Dale Brown. … The Gators have held eight opponents to fewer than 50 points and 12 to fewer than 60. “The Florida team we saw and the one I’ve watched on tape is way better than every team we’ve played,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said, “and we’ve played some good teams. They have a terrific club.” …Florida ranks in the top 10 in scoring margin (second, plus-22.1), scoring defense (third, 51.7 ppg), field goal percentage defense (fifth, 36.1 percent) and field goal percentage (ninth, 49.1) …Georgia is fifth in the SEC in field goal percentage defense (40.4 percent) and 12th in field goal percentage (41.3). …Caldwell-Pope is fourth in the SEC in scoring and 10th nationally in steals with 2.6.