Although today he stands as one of the most well-known and successful young basketball coaches in America, University of Nevada, Reno men’s basketball coach Mark Fox has had more than a few “Nickel and Dimed” moments in his life.
Fox, 39, in his four years at Nevada, has led the Wolf Pack to four straight post-season appearances, four straight Western Athletic Conference titles and three berths in the NCAA Tournament.
And yet, the memories of barely earning a living as he broke into college coaching still remain.
“I can still remember my first job,” said Fox, one of more than 90 faculty members who on Thursday led student discussion groups for the Class of 2012 Summer Scholar Book Project. “My first paycheck was $6 more than my rent.”
Fox took a long look at his audience, two dozen first-year students who were assembled in Room 242 of the Mack Social Sciences Building. After reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s New York Times bestseller, “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America,” over the summer, the students were asked to participate in discussion groups in their first act in joining the community of scholars on the Nevada campus.
“When you’re faced with having only $6 more than your rent,” he said, “you have to develop some skills to survive.”
Fox shared the facilitator’s role with his wife, Cindy, executive associate athletics director at Nevada.
Cindy, too, recalled her own experience during the discussion.
“I worked two jobs when I was a student at the University of Washington,” she said. “And there would be times when I would check in the cushions for money to buy coffee.”
“Nickel and Dimed’s” message seemed to resonate with many of the students. In the book, Ehrenreich partook in poverty-level wage jobs in Florida, Maine and Minnesota, working as, among other things, a waitress, hotel maid and Wal-Mart salesperson. Her vivid description of the experience held a mirror to America and what it means to scratch out a living at minimum wage.
“I worked two jobs, so I could relate,” said Chelsea Gibson, a freshman from Damonte Ranch High School in Reno. “(Reading “Nickel and Dimed”) was definitely encouraging, especially about the value of a college education. It was motivating.”
“I liked the book, but at the same time, I was frustrated with it,” she added. “I was frustrated because (Ehrenreich) could leave all those jobs when it was finished. With my own jobs, I couldn’t always do that.”
Gibson said she was impressed with both Mark and Cindy Fox.
“They were both very professional and knew what they were talking about,” Gibson said. “They really seemed to be excited about what they were doing, and they really seemed excited for all of us to be here on campus.”
With four of his own Wolf Pack freshmen basketball players participating in the New Student Orientation activities on Thursday, Mark Fox’s comments had a decidedly paternal tone.
He said of speaking to his first-year players, “I ask them all the time, ‘Do you want to have a time card or a contract when you are done (with their University education)? This is a really important decision on your part.” Fox noted the difference between a “contract” type of profession, which usually guarantees a higher salary, as opposed to a job based on a minimum wage of only $6 or $7 per hour.
Going back to his own life, Fox noted that as a young coach he had to get a roommate, “because that was the only you could survive (financially). With a roommate, you can cut your expenses in half.”
The discussion elicited several interesting thoughts from the students. At one point, Cindy Fox asked the group, “What’s your American Dream?”
The responses from the students varied from “being rich” to “having a healthy family” to “having the freedom to do what I want to do” to “happiness.”
“Those are all great answers, and it’s always different for everybody” Mark Fox said. “Just remember that all these things that seem so important to you today could change. That’s what college is all about. Your thought process is going to mature and change through your experience here.”
Added Cindy Fox: “Make sure you go into anything with an open mind. Listen to all points of view. Don’t let somebody make up your point of view for you.”