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Holloway: Fox's team fights for wins, Richt's team feels entitled to them

The 2 Georgia athletic programs appear headed in different directions

POSTED: January 27, 2011 6:49 p.m.
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Basketball coach Mark Fox's program is taking steps forward.

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His teams have blown its two chances to make a statement since landing in the Top 25 three weeks ago, sliding to fifth place in the SEC East.

He has never won anything of significance against a conference schedule that didn’t include the likes of Idaho and San Jose State.

He has never pulled in a top-10 recruiting class.

And, as my boss correctly pointed out, apparently he can’t beat Florida, either.

So why is Georgia basketball coach Mark Fox the flavor of the day, while popular opinion of Mark Richt has soured? Richt, you’ll surely remember, is a two-time SEC champ, has had only one losing season in 10 years and is closing in on another renowned recruiting class.

The answer, to this outsider’s eyes, is plain to see. It boils down to one fundamental difference.

Fox’s team wants to win. Badly. As badly as the fans want them to win.

Richt’s team expects to win. And not in the good way. In the arrogant way.

That may or may not be a reflection of the two head coaches, but it is a perfectly fine and just measurement of their job performance.

It also makes the basketball team easier for the casual fan to get behind.

Watching the bleachers during Tuesday’s double-overtime loss to Florida brought the realization that there’s something almost precious about the Bulldogs’ burgeoning basketball success and the fans’ reaction to it. A generation of fans is learning for the first time that college basketball is more, after all, than a placeholder between the bowl game and spring practice. Their enthusiasm is unspoiled by expectation, unlike in football, where it’s win now, win often and win big or here comes the frothing at the mouth.

Fans of the basketball program (and while they pull from the same pool, this is a different fan base than the football backers) don’t see winning as their birthright. Therefore, they cherish it, and that makes it fun – not just a relief.

By the way, the basketball team and its coach are also pretty good.

Yes, they let a winnable game against Tennessee slip away in the final seconds, and they made mistakes that cost them a win over the No. 24 Gators (why in the world would you not foul Erving Walker before he launched a game-tying 3-pointer at the end of the first overtime?).

But the lasting image I’ll take from the game isn’t of the lead that got away, it’s of the deficit Georgia doggedly chipped away to nothing in the final minutes of regulation. There were plenty of chances to quit, but the Bulldogs’ pursuit never waivered.

As a contrast, consider the effort of the football team in a 10-6 loss to Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl.
Kicker Blair Walsh said it best when he talked about his team’s sense of entitlement. Here’s a choice quote from the postgame locker room:

“Our attitude needs to change,” Walsh told the Macon Telegraph. “We’re not entitled to win any games. Even though it was UCF, it was Conference USA, I think we felt like we were entitled to win this game. We can’t feel that way.”

He’s right, and it shouldn’t be the kicker who has to come out and say what everybody else is thinking. It should be the coach. Either Richt didn’t want to admit the problem or he’s too out of touch to realize what the problem is in the first place.

I’m not sure which is worse.

In fairness, the bar for success could hardly be more disparate for the two coaches. Richt’s 6-7 record this season wouldn’t have been so unbearable if not for the success he achieved early in his now 10-year tenure in Athens. Conversely, Fox was deemed at least a mild success after finishing his first season at 14-17.

But it also can’t be ignored that the direction of the two programs is equally dissimilar. Maybe they aren’t ready for the big stage yet, but at least Fox’s Bulldogs are headed in the right direction. And despite what the recruit rankings say, it’s hard to believe the same about Richt.

Brent Holloway is the sports editor for The Times. Follow him at twitter.com/gtimesbholloway.



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