How UGA Supplanted Tech as State’s Top Program
The University of Georgia had it cooking with my buddy Ezra Williams from Marietta High School and the Hayes brothers (Jarvis and Jonas). UGA looked to be at least a 3 seed in the NCAA tourney and was widely considered a major threat to win the SEC basketball tournament…and then Tony Coles happened. He shed light on the coaching staff’s blatant NCAA improprieties, and the school removed itself from postseason consideration before the NCAA hammer ever dropped. Self-imposed sanctions left the program in shambles, and the NCAA considered them harsh enough – Jim Harrick and staff were shown the door.
Before all that, the program had been a bit up-and-down since Tubby Smith departed Athens for the Kentucky bluegrass after only two stellar seasons in the Classic City. A Tubby-protege named Ron Jirsa had become head coach then, and though he had the talented Jumaine Jones on the roster, he was never able to accomplish much.
Never a basketball school, the alums and fans program expectations had soared to heights under Tubby unseen under our statistically greatest head coach, Hugh Durham. When Harrick replaced Jirsa, we immediately started winning big again. But doing things the wrong way and winning at all costs is pointblank not what the University of Georgia is all about as an institution of higher learning. The nation’s oldest state chartered public university and its leadership were adamant that UGA must have continued rising standards of ethics, academics and achievement in all regards. They did the right thing by moving swiftly to bounce Harrick.
Enter Dennis Felton and a return to mediocre play. Unacceptable as anything other than light entertainment, UGA basketball had obviously reverted and was not a major challenger in a strengthened SEC. A weak UGA team did shock the nation by winning the SEC tournament in Atlanta in 2008, but that ended up as a bad thing for the program in the longterm as it only prolonged the misery of the Felton era by buying him more time in Athens. Finally, he was replaced by Mark Fox.
Tech has been to the NCAA basketball tournament 16 times to UGA’s 11, has 2 Final Four appearances to UGA’s 1 and has a marginal career winning percentage advantage over UGA. But since the annual contest was moved back on campus from a neutral site game in Atlanta (mostly played in the Omni), Georgia has the nod in wins. The home team always wins in Athens and usually wins in Atlanta. That slight difference was strong among the reasons why Georgia Tech recently fired their head basketball coach. He was 4-7 versus UGA, and Tech has generally stumbled and bumbled as a program since once reaching the NCAA’s final game under him.
Meanwhile, Mark Fox has done a remarkable job at Georgia in just 2 seasons, pushing the record to 21-11 this season against a difficult schedule. UGA has been getting the majority of strong instate talent for several years – such as juniors Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie – and has finally taken the program to heights deemed unlikely as recently as last season. With the improved facilities at UGA, the sky is the limit if UGA can retain Coach Fox.