Fox did nothing wrong
Lately I’ve been hearing about how Mark Fox “extorted” or “blackmailed” the University of Nevada after Nebraska made overtures about him becoming the Cornhuskers’ next men’s basketball coach.
Fox has nothing to apologize for. And again it amazes me how people react. When Trent Johnson emphatically said he was staying at Nevada – the words “I don’t want to be a one-hit wonder” come to mind – signed a new contract and bolted for Stanford about a month later, I was amazed how soft this area was on him.
Johnson certainly couldn’t be blamed for leaving for Stanford, which amounted to his dream job, but he shouldn’t have been so definitive about staying, either. Johnson should have known you never say never.
After watching what Johnson went through, it looks like Fox learned that lesson. He’s never ever made a definitive “I’ll never leave” statement, always carefully measuring his words, talking about his loyalty to Nevada, but ultimately leaving his options open.
And certainly there’s no overwhelming chorus singing about how Fox used Nebraska to gain leverage with Nevada. But the fact that has even came up has shown me the lack of perspective of this area and that Northern Nevada still hasn’t accepted the reality.
The reality now is that Nevada is considered a mid-major power, even a program that could entertain possibilities of becoming the next George Mason and making the Final Four. Northern Nevada needs to overcome its small town, provential attitude. In other words, it needs to start thinking more like Notre Dame and less like Sacramento State.
By any objective standard, Charlie Weiss hadn’t even proven himself last season at Notre Dame. But the fact that Weiss was even mentioned as a possible NFL coach led Notre Dame to rip up a contract that was less than a year old and give him the moon, thus setting a new standard for the elite college football coaches.
So Nevada has to accept the fact that it has a successful program, with a successful coach and whenever a higher profile program comes calling, it’s likely going to have to pony up, which apparently its chief supporters have done.
While contracts should certainly be entered into with good faith, they’re also made to be renogiated. And just because Fox may have used his leverage when he wasn’t looking for it in the first place doesn’t mean he acted in bad faith. When Fox used that leverage, I was saying more power to him.
Any of us in the same situation would have done the same thing Fox did. At least I know I would have.
And Nevada supporters definitely made the right decision to spend a reportedly extra $100,000 to keep Fox because they couldn’t risk that there wasn’t a serious chance that he could go to Nebraska.
The fact that Nebraska immediately hired UTEP’s Doc Sadler after Fox removed himself as a candidate tells me that Fox was actually the Cornhuskers’ No. 1 choice and things could have gotten serious.
We can all have the ivory tower, academic arguement about how there’s way too much money spent on college sports. Yes, coaches probably shouldn’t be paid any more than any other professor on campus.
But the reality is they are. As Bear Bryant said, “You can’t rally around a math class.” Bryant, by the way, didn’t accept a base salary that was any more than the average salary for a professor at Alabama. But he was more than willing to make his share of money (which was a lot) through other perks, like his television show.
If anybody wants a reason for criticizing Fox, it should be that he may have strung Nick Fazekas along a little bit. Out of loyalty to Fazekas for coming back, Fox probably should have nipped the Nebraska talk in the bud a day or two sooner than he did.
But that’s quibbling. And the fact that Fox may take Nevada to the Elite 8 or even the Final Four this season means Nevada will likely have to pony up again.
That’s the reality.