Photo by © Jay Biggerstaff | 2018 Jan 10
Cal Basketball

Coaching Candidate Profile: Mark Fox

March 29, 2019

Key stats:

Overall record: 286-176

WAC Regular Season Conference Titles: 4 (2005-2008)

NCAA Tourney Appearances: 5 (2005-2007, Nevada & 2011, 2015 at Georgia)

WAC COY: 3 (2005-2007)

Reports have emerged that Mark Fox and Cal are close to reaching a deal for Fox to become the next men’s hoops coach at UC-Berkeley. If that’s actually the case (we’ll wait till things are actually final — see “Matt Painter to Mizzou” circa 2011), we’ll have more detailed coverage on Fox in the coming days.

But first a couple of thoughts.

  • Hiring another team’s fired coach isn’t (always) a bad idea. It can work out. In one year Tom Crean has recruited a top 10 recruiting class at Georgia — one of the worst teams in the SEC (we’ll visit this later). Rick Barnes is obviously doing well at Tennessee after being let go from Texas. Ben Howland has turned around Mississippi State. Bruce Weber is doing well at Kansas State after being fired from Illinois. If Mike Anderson decides to keep coaching, whichever school gets him will have a good hire. Just because Mark Fox wasn’t getting it done at Georgia doesn’t mean he can’t get it done at Cal.
  • Coaches can and will win at Georgia. The argument that Georgia is a football school and hoops will always come second is somewhat true, but that doesn’t mean basketball doesn’t matter. Fans care deeply about hoops in Athens, Georgia and that’s why they fired Fox in the first place for Crean. The SEC as a whole is becoming an elite hoops conference. Has Georgia historically been a good hoops school? Not really. Does that mean it will continue to not be a good hoops school? No.

Let’s take a quick look at what Cal can expect from Fox based on some recent history.

One question mark for Fox is offense. He’s only had one top-50 offense and that was in 2007 at Nevada. At Georgia, his best offense was his first year when it was ranked 64th in KenPom. However, Fox teams did two things very well towards the end of his tenure at Georgia — they got offensive rebounds and they got to the free throw line at an elite clip. All of Fox’s final six seasons at Georgia, the Bulldogs were in the top 50 in free throw rate.

Fox teams play hard defense. The style is somewhat similar to Cuonzo Martin. Fox teams aren’t going to turn you over, but they’re going to make it very hard for you to make shots. In Fox’s 14 years of being a head coach, his teams have only finished out of KenPom’s top 50 in defense eFG% four times. They have been particularly good at bogging down the lane and not allowing a high rate of two-point shot conversions. Fox teams will hang in a lot of games because of their stellar defense.

Coaches can evolve on offense. Fox’s lack of offensive coaching prowess shouldn’t be an immediate turn-off for fans if (when?) he’s announced as Cal’s next coach. The biggest pause comes from recruiting. Georgia and the Southeast have a ton of top athletes in basketball and football. Outside of landing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a top 10 recruit in 2011, Fox never really got it done on the recruiting trail. In a conference like the SEC with some athletic freaks, you’re not going to get it done unless you’re pulling in top recruiting classes. And the whole idea of it being tough to recruit hoops at Georgia was blown out of the water when Crean just landed a 2019 class with three four-stars and Anthony Edwards, 247’s No. 2 player in the 2019 class. As a side, that class, which currently ranks seventh in the nation is third in the SEC.

This would by no means be a sexy hire. In 2011, after Fox’s domination at Nevada in the WAC, it’s a bit better of a hire. But this is after he only took Georgia to the NCAA tournament twice in nine seasons and never made it past the first day. He only had four winning records in conference play in the SEC. Does that mean he can’t be a winner at Cal? Of course not. People and coaches can and do evolve. Maybe a year off will be good for him. Here’s to hoping it was.

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