COLUMBIA, MO-- In the waning moments of Georgia's overtime win at No. 21 Missouri, Mark Fox put his head in his hands and wept openly, just a handful of days after his father passed away.The image pulled at the heartstrings of many; Fox estimated he received hundreds of text messages and emails after Wednesday night's game.
Some were from guys who'd played for his father nearly 50 years ago, others were from friends and fans. About 24 hours before his Bulldogs pulled off the upset, Fox had attended a memorial service in Garden City, Kan., for his late father.
Raymond Lewis Fox, 78, passed away last Saturday."You have to stay focused and kind of compartmentalize your emotions for a couple of days," Mark Fox told USA TODAY Sports Thursday morning. "At the end of an overtime, I just couldn't contain them anymore. I just had to let them go. I'm kind of embarrassed that it became a story - my dad wouldn't have wanted that - but it was just an emotional time."
Fox hadn't been able to get back to Kansas in time to say one final farewell; he was in Washington, D.C., coaching Georgia against George Washington last Friday night. Prior to tipoff, he knew his father was in the hospital, "doing better before he took a turn for the worse," Fox said. He found out right before the game that his father wasn't likely to make it.
"My dad had lung disease, but he also had asthma," Fox said. "That's a lethal combination. ... We played the game at GW. I had to get through the game, and get home. I didn't get home in time."
Fox said he has no doubt in his mind that his father would have wanted him to coach these games, even while coping with grief. The elder Fox had been a longtime coach, having coached various sports at both the high school and community college level. During his career, he coaching basketball at Ellsworth High in Kansas at the same time Gene Keady at Beloit High, in the same league.
"My dad actually had left instructions - if he ever died during the season, delay the services," Fox said. "He felt, he always felt the most important thing for a coach is to take care of his players and make them better people and be there for them. He would have never wanted me to miss something important with our team."
Fox said he learned a lot about how to do things the right way - as a father, husband, coach - from his dad, whose greatest reward from coaching had been watching the kids grow into adults.
Fox said his father never coached him (save for a brief football season when Fox was very young) and never tried to tell him what to do when he became a coach himself. He knew enough - in their last conversation, on Christmas Day, he told his son the Bulldogs 'needed to play some damn defense - but would let Fox coach his team. When he came to Fox's games over the years, he'd show up in a coat and tie. ("He was old-school," Fox said.)
"Everyone's had a father," said Fox, who also has two brothers. "Not everyone has been blessed to have a great dad or have a dad in their lives - and I had both - (but) I think everyone can relate to it."Fox said Georgia football coach Mark Richt sent him a text after hearing of his father's passing."He sent another one 15 minutes later saying he'd just called his dad and told him he loved him," Fox said. He paused."That's one of the good things that's come out of this."
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