Appalachian State Winston-Salem State Basketball

Jim Fox, the head men’s basketball coach at Appalachian State, speaks to his team during a game earlier this season against Winston-Salem State. Fox was fired Friday after amassing a 56-99 record in his five seasons in Boone.

Jim Fox has been fired by Appalachian State after five seasons as the men's basketball coach.

The Journal confirmed the news with a source Friday, which was originally reported by CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein. Fox, who signed a two-year contract extension in the summer of 2018, finished his first run as a head coach with a 56-99 record, a mark that includes only one 15-win season and one conference record of .500 or better.

The Mountaineers saw their 2018-19 season end on Tuesday with an 89-80 loss against UL Monroe in the first round of the Sun Belt Conference tournament. According to Fox's contract, App State will pay a $200,000 buyout for termination without cause. 

App State officially announced the move later in the afternoon. The Mountaineers named Jason Allison as interim head coach during the transition, according to the school's release. Allison has been on Fox's staff since 2014, becoming associate head coach before this season.

“I want to thank Jim and his staff for all they have done for our basketball program,” said Doug Gillin, App State's athletics director, through the release. “Jim inherited a challenging situation, worked hard and has brought in high-character student-athletes.

"Our vision for basketball is to annually compete for a conference championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. We will conduct a national search to find the best leader to accomplish that vision. There is significant opportunity to achieve basketball success here at Appalachian.”

Fox’s tenure at Appalachian represents the men’s basketball program’s first foray into the Sun Belt Conference. Inheriting a program under NCAA sanctions, he helped to turn his teams into an academic success year in and year out. But ultimately, Fox could not establish a winning culture. 

App State finished the year 11-21 after a 10th-place finish in the regular season. The Mountaineers also finished with more than 20 losses in back-to-back seasons from 2015 to 2017.

His best season came in 2017-18, which appeared to indicate a turning point for Fox’s program. App State went 15-18 with a 9-9 record in the Sun Belt. It was the first time Appalachian registered a non-losing conference record since 2012-13, the Mountaineers’ next-to-last season as a member of the Southern Conference. 

Returning five of its top seven scorers for 2018-19, the expectation around the program was to contend for a Sun Belt championship. Instead, the Mountaineers started conference play 0-6 and nearly missed out on the conference tournament (which features the top 10 of the Sun Belt's 12 teams).

A long-time assistant at Davidson, Fox worked for 13 seasons on the bench of Bob McKillop. He was part of 10 SoCon regular-season titles and six SoCon Tournament championships. The Wildcats made the NCAA Tournament six times, which included an Elite Eight appearance in 2008 with the help of future NBA MVP Stephen Curry.

Replacing former App State assistant and North Carolina basketball player Jason Capel, who went 53-70 in four seasons, in 2014, Fox’s first season featured a postseason ban due to low APR scores from the 2012-13 season. The APR, which stands for Academic Progress Rate, is a term-by-term calculation of the eligibility and retention of all student-athletes according to the NCAA.

Under Fox, the APR for the App State program has registered a rating higher than 950 in every season that’s been calculated — the most recent APR scores right now are from the 2016-17 season — including back-to-back ratings of 980. A perfect APR score is 1,000, while the minimum for Division-I programs is 930.

Fox’s time at App State started with promise despite the NCAA’s punishment. In his third game with Appalachian, he coached the team to a 65-63 win against Virginia Tech. The Mountaineers went 9-11 in conference play and won 12 games overall, including their final three of the regular season.

A defining trait of App State under Fox was close games where, more often than not, the Mountaineers lost. In games decided by 10 points or less, App State was 32-48. That includes this season’s terrible mark of 6-17 in that same scenario.

With Fox, Appalachian saw the development of one of the program’s best scorers. Ronshad Shabazz became the second-highest scorer in Mountaineers’ history, amassing 2,067 points in a four-year career where he averaged more than 11 points in every season.

But Shabazz and the Mountaineers never appeared in any national tournament and won only one game in the Sun Belt tournament during the last three seasons. The Mountaineers didn’t make it in 2015-16, and they were low seeds in 2016-17 and 2018-19 (11th and 10th, respectively).

App State was the Sun Belt’s fifth seed following the 2017-18 season, Appalachian’s best under Fox by far. The Mountaineers earned their first Sun Belt Tournament win in that tournament, a 93-64 win against Little Rock, before losing to UT Arlington two days later.

The program has gone 35-59 in the Sun Belt.

App State is now eight seasons removed from its last winning season (2010-11 with Capel) and nine seasons removed from its last 20-win season (2009-10 with Buzz Peterson). The Mountaineers have boasted the worst home attendance average in the Sun Belt during the last two seasons.

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