ATHENS — Dennis Felton led Georgia on a surprising run through the SEC tournament last season, winning four games in four days to capture the title.
He won't get that chance this year.
Felton was fired as coach of the Bulldogs on Thursday, one day after the team dropped to 9-11 and 0-5 in the Southeastern Conference with a 26-point loss to Florida.
"I thought we needed new leadership at this time and that's why I made the change in the middle of the season," athletic director Damon Evans said.
Evans called Felton in Gainesville, Fla., on Wednesday night after an embarrassing 83-57 loss to the Gators, and delivered the news during a meeting in his office Thursday morning.
"I wanted to be patient. I think I've shown patience in the past. It came to a culmination for me. I'm not going to say last night was the thing that triggered it. There were a lot of things," Evans said. "I've been looking at this and evaluating this for quite some time."
Assistant coach Pete Herrmann will be the interim coach the remainder of the season.
Georgia is the second SEC school to announce a coaching change this week, after Alabama's Mark Gottfried resigned on Monday. Each team will have interim coaches when Georgia plays at Alabama on Saturday.
Felton did not attend Thursday's news conference and was not available for comment.
"I think under the circumstances Dennis handled it quite well," Evans said. "He made a decision not to be here for the press conference."
Felton met with his players following his meeting with Evans.
"He was more worried about us being happy and about us being successful than anything about himself being fired," said junior center Albert Jackson. "It was all about us the whole time. ... He told us he loved us and cared about us."
Herrmann, who spent six years as head coach at Navy from 1986-92, led the Bulldogs' first practice without Felton on Thursday afternoon.
"There's not any joy today in becoming the head coach for a month and a half here at the University of Georgia because of the circumstances surrounding it," said Herrmann, who also was an assistant coach under Felton at Western Kentucky.
"I haven't been in this situation before and I know it's going to be difficult, but we're going to do what's best for our players here, for our kids here at Georgia and for the university."
Evans said is was "unusual" to make the coaching change during the season but said he concluded he couldn't wait "to begin the process of taking our program to a level to which we all aspire."
"Our resources are abundant, as evidenced by the building in which we are all sitting," Evans said, adding the state produces "some of the nation's top basketball prospects year in and year out."
Too few of those top recruits signed with Georgia the past six years, though, and Felton also had difficulty keeping players he signed.
Felton dismissed starting guard Billy Humphrey from the team last June following Humphrey's third arrest in less than a year, his second on alcohol-related charges. Also within the last two years, starters Mike Mercer and Takais Brown were dismissed for unspecified violations of team rules and Rashaad Singleton and Jeremy Jacobs transferred to other schools.
Felton took over a Georgia program in turmoil after the firing of Jim Harrick in 2003.
Felton's first five teams finished 16-14, 8-20, 15-15, 19-14 and 17-17, and his SEC regular-season record was 26-59. Georgia was 13-16 last season and had won just four conference games before that magical run in Atlanta, when the Bulldogs managed four straight wins to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002.
They lost in the opening round to Xavier, and Felton and his team couldn't live up to the high expectations that followed.
Felton, who was making $760,000 per year, is owed about $1.5 million on his contract, which runs through 2011.
Evans indicated he'll be willing to pay more money if necessary to hire the right coach.
"Our commitment and my commitment to building Georgia basketball is strong, and when I say strong I'm going to add very strong onto that," Evans said.
"We're going to go out and identify the best possible candidate for this job, and that may mean we have to commit more resources than we have in the past, but I don't want to hold us back from doing what we need to do in order to be successful."
Evans said he will use a search firm to help identify candidates. He set no timetable for making a hire and would not identify potential candidates.