Charlestown resident Dan Fox has first-hand knowledge of how hard Ohio University head men’s basketball coach John Groce has worked in his climb up the NCAA Division I coaching ladder.
Fox has seen Groce be an assistant coach at four schools — North Carolina State, Butler, Xavier and Ohio State. From 2000-08, Groce was an assistant for current Buckeyes’ head coach Thad Matta at the latter three universities.
Then in 2008, Fox saw Groce get the opportunity he had been working for all of his career. Groce became the head coach at Ohio University, a school he has been at the last four seasons. Groce has guided the Bobcats to the Sweet Sixteen in this year’s NCAA tournament.
How does Fox know so much about Groce’s coaching ventures?
It’s because Fox is Groce’s father-in-law.
“He’s worked tirelessly,” Fox said. “He’s worked very hard. That what’s attracted him to Thad Matta. He’s always been a hard worker and he doesn’t leave anything to chance.”
Fox, an agency manager for Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance in Jeffersonville, first met Groce when the Bobcats’ coach was an assistant at N.C. State in the late 1990s. At the time, Groce was dating Fox’s daughter, Allison, who was in middle of a sports marketing internship at N.C. State after she graduated from Indiana University. John and Allison would eventually get married and have two sons, Conner and Camden.
Fox’s initial memories of Groce were that the aspiring head coach would rarely take a break from his coaching responsibilities.
“He would be working when we’d go to dinner,” Fox said.
Ever since Groce took over the reins at Ohio, Fox has usually gone to one or two of the Bobcats’ preconference home games each season in Athens, Ohio. Also, he attempts to go to Ohio’s annual road game at Mid-American Conference rival Miami (Ohio) and has been to a couple of the Bobcats’ games at another MAC school, Ball State.
“Since he’s been at Ohio, we’ve made a lot of trips to Athens,” Fox said.
When Fox cannot attend his son-in-law’s games, he watches the Bobcats either on television or through the Internet.
Fox was unable to go the MAC Tournament in Cleveland March 8-10, where the tournament champion would get an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.
But Fox made a promise to Allison.
“I told my daughter that if they won the MAC Tournament, we’d go wherever (the Bobcats’ NCAA tourney games) would be,” Fox said.
Fox kept his promise.
On March 10, the Bobcats defeated No. 1 seed Akron in the MAC Tournament championship, 64-63. It was the sixth time Ohio had won the conference tournament crown.
The following day, Fox and the rest of his family found out where Groce and the Bobcats would be playing their second-round game of the NCAA tournament.
“We were praying for either Louisville or Nashville (Tenn.),” Fox said.
Their prayers were answered.
Ohio would face No. 4 Michigan in the second round in Nashville, prompting Fox to make his travel plans for the Tennessee capital.
Last Friday, the 13th-seeded Bobcats started an unbelievable journey by upsetting the Wolverines, who shared the Big Ten Conference regular-season title with Michigan State and Ohio State, 65-60.
Two days later in Nashville, Ohio earned its first Sweet Sixteen berth since the tournament expanded to 64 teams with a 62-56 third-round triumph over 12th-seeded South Florida.
“It was awesome,” Fox said. “I told some friends that they were not going for the experience — they were going to win a couple of games. I had confidence they would beat Michigan.”
Fox lauded the Bobcat faithful as several Ohio fans made the trip south to Nashville.
“I have to compliment Ohio U. and their fan base. They sold the most tickets of anyone there,” Fox said. “It was wonderful.”
Fox will be making the trip this weekend to St. Louis for the Midwest Regional to root for Groce and the Bobcats. On Friday, Ohio will face top-seeded North Carolina in the first regional semifinal at 7:47 p.m. EDT. The game will be televised on TBS.
If Ohio upsets the Tar Heels, it will face either 11th-seeded N.C. State or No. 2 seed Kansas in the Midwest Regional final on Sunday.
“I’m going to go to St. Louis and I will pack enough clothes through Sunday,” Fox said.
Fox says one of the reasons Groce has been a successful coach at Ohio is his devotion to his players.
“He coaches for the kids,” Fox said. “His main aspiration is that he wants the kids to do well.”