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ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity believed this could be the year the Bulldogs returned to the NCAA Tournament and made a move to join the SEC’s elite.

Instead, a disappointing season led McGarity to decide Mark Fox wasn’t the right coach to help Georgia contend for championships.

McGarity fired Fox on Saturday, ending the coach’s nine-year stay that included only two NCAA Tournament appearances.

The decision to fire Fox came one day after the Bulldogs’ loss to Kentucky in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

“In the end, I felt like we have not reached our full potential as a basketball program,” McGarity said in a statement released by the school. “I really thought we were on the way to turning the corner this year. We just did not achieve the level of success as a program that I believe we should at the University of Georgia.”

The Bulldogs (18-15) likely needed to win the SEC Tournament to land an invitation to the NCAA Tournament and possibly save Fox’s job.

“For the past nine years, we have had the good fortune to coach some terrific young men,” Fox said. “This chapter has closed, and I am grateful to the many who have helped us along the way but especially to the young men who wore the red and black. We’ve been able to reach a couple of NCAA Tournaments, a couple more NITs and graduate our players. Hopefully, our time here can be the groundwork for more success.”

McGarity achieved immediate success in his last major hire, as football coach Kirby Smart won the Bulldogs’ first SEC championship since 2005 and a spot in the national championship game in only his second season.

McGarity said Georgia will “move as quickly as possible” in its national search to replace Fox, who was 163-133 at Georgia.

The quick decision to fire Fox will allow the search to begin during the NCAA Tournament instead of waiting on Georgia’s possible NIT stay.

There was no immediate indication of who would coach the team if Georgia receives a bid to the NIT. Assistant coach Jonas Hayes, who may be a candidate to replace Fox, could serve as interim coach.

McGarity said the decision was “very difficult, especially when you are talking about someone like Mark Fox.”

“We have worked alongside each other for eight seasons, and I have the utmost respect for Mark, his staff, our student-athletes and the support staff,” McGarity said. “They have always represented the University of Georgia in a professional manner.”

Fox will be due a buyout of about $1.1 million. He had two years remaining, at $2 million per year, on a five-year contract signed in 2015.

This season, a poor conference record hurt the Bulldogs’ NCAA hopes. Georgia finished 7-11 in SEC regular-season games, tied for 11th in the 14-team league.

Georgia lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 2011 and 2015.

Expectations grew that Georgia could return to the tournament when forward Yante Maten returned for his senior season. Maten was selected SEC player of the year, but his consistent production was not enough to save Georgia’s season as the Bulldogs were hurt by problems in their backcourt.

Georgia beat Vanderbilt and Missouri in the first two rounds of the SEC Tournament before falling to Kentucky.


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