Updated: Expectations higher for Fox after getting contract extension

Mark Fox will return a roster with nearly everybody back next season.

Now, the Georgia men’s basketball coach has a two-year contract extension to sell on the recruiting trail and expectations for the coming season set by athletic director Greg McGarity will be “very high.”

That was the message conveyed in the athletic association’s announcement Wednesday afternoon — Fox’s current deal now will run four more years after it was extended through the end of the 2017-2018 season.

“It kind of puts to rest any questions when you’re talking to a high-school prospect of, ‘Well, how long are you going to be around?’” McGarity said in an interview Wednesday. “So I think this kind of takes that off the table from that standpoint, which is important to anyone entering the depth of their initial contract.”

McGarity called this past season a “very good year” after back-to-back losing seasons had him looking for improvement when evaluating Fox. Georgia went 20-14, finished tied for second in the Southeastern Conference and reached the second round of the National Invitation Tournament.

Now, the bar is raised even higher for Fox’s sixth season in Athens with four starters returning.

He has reached the NCAA tournament just once in five seasons, but he said after the NIT loss to Louisiana Tech that “we have enough back to make that a very realistic goal.”

McGarity said: ‚ÄúI think if you ask anybody that follows our program ‚Äî if you ask our team, our coaches ‚Äî absolutely that‚Äôs our ultimate goal to get in the show. … You never go to a coach and say, ‚ÄòThis has to happen or else you‚Äôre gone.‚Äô … It‚Äôs just so difficult to work in an environment if you put those type of demands before you even start the season.‚Äù

Fox, who has an 85-77 record at Georgia, had two years left on a contract worth $1.7 million a year. The original six-year contract was extended one year in 2011 when he got a $400,000 raise.

“We’re entering the point in time where the institution felt like that was the right amount of time to try to turn things around,” McGarity said. “That’s why Mark Fox was brought to the University of Georgia. I would think anybody would hope when Mark signed his first contract that at the end of the six-year period that we’re competing at a high level. We competed at a high level this year. Not as high as we wanted, but still the record shows the performance of the team this year. Now, we just need to start stacking success upon success. I’m sure we’ll be picked high.”

Fox’s buyout for the two remaining years on his contract would have been about $3.2 million if McGarity had gone in another direction following a season in which Georgia stood at 6-6 after nonconference play.

McGarity wouldn’t discuss financial terms of this extension or if the buyout had changed. Final details are still being worked out.

‚ÄúWe just talked in broad terms of the financial piece of it,‚Äù McGarity said. ‚ÄúBut that‚Äôs not the story for today. We haven‚Äôt really focused on that part a good deal. … We thought it was important to go ahead with recruiting and everything that‚Äôs in place that we go ahead and do it at this time.‚Äù

Georgia said Fox was en route to a national coaching convention in Dallas at the Final Four, but issued a statement from him.

“From Day One, we have worked to establish basketball success within the SEC, academic success in the graduation of our players and developing a culture where we remain consistently successful,” Fox said. “As we move forward and continue to recruit and develop young men who can compete for championships, this is a great step to aid in the process. The next goal is to remain successful and to move that success to another level through scheduling, recruiting, the commitment of our young people and the help of our administration.”

Since reaching the NCAA tournament in 2011, Fox has seen three players leave as NBA early entries during that time.

Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie were second-round draft picks in 2011 and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was a lottery pick in 2013.

Fox has had a hard time replenishing his roster with highly rated recruits. McGarity said “sometimes that is the elephant in the room.”

Even so, Georgia exceeded expectations this season in SEC play when it was picked to finish 11th.

Georgia finished tied for second in the top-heavy league, which had only three NCAA tournament teams: Final four participants Florida and Kentucky and Sweet 16 team Tennessee.

The Bulldogs’ NCAA chances were hurt by a 6-6 nonconference record, but they had a five-win improvement after going 15-17 each of the previous two seasons.

The announcement came two weeks before the late signing period.

Georgia has not signed a player for this recruiting class.

It has two scholarships to offer after reserve center John Cannon left the team to transfer.

Georgia returns everyone else except for senior forward Donte’ Williams and could make a run for the NCAA tournament.

“I think the program should be just like any other program that we sponsor, we want to be competitive in the SEC and usually if you’re competitive in the SEC then you’re competitive on a national level,” McGarity said. “If you look at our goals as a department, that’s one of our goals — that every team competes in their national championship. Basketball should be treated just as other sports as far as expectations.”

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