ATLANTA — It was supposed to be Dennis Felton’s final appearance on the Bulldogs’ bench before his future was decided by Georgia athletics director Damon Evans. Instead, the fifth-year coach’s immediate fate may have been sealed by Dave Bliss.
Bliss, a senior post for the Bulldogs, banked in a short jumper with .4 seconds left in overtime of the Bulldogs’ first-round SEC tournament game with Ole Miss, lifting Georgia to an improbable 97-95 win, and possibly granting his coach a one-year reprieve in the process.
And rightfully so.
This much is known: Georgia will be taking on Kentucky at 9:45 tonight and Felton will still be barking signals from the sideline; whether or not Felton will still be there when the Wildcats visit Stegeman Coliseum next season is still up for discussion.
In the week leading up to Thursday’s game Evans said in numerous published reports that he had yet to come to a decision on Felton’s future. That would be decided in a postseason evaluation. Entering the SEC tournament, the opinion of Bulldog fans seemed to be split pretty close to 50-50 in regards as to whether Felton should stay. And on both sides of the issue are reasonable arguments.
- Felton inherited a program in near ruin in the wake of the Jim Harrick fiasco, which included improper payments to a player and free A’s for athletes in a Jim Harrick Jr.-taught class.
- Since then, Felton’s done everything the right way – restoring respectability (at least off the court) by instilling discipline, demanding academic achievement, requiring good citizenship.
- On the court, he’s never really had a chance at Georgia, but his track record (three straight NCAA tournament appearances at Western Kentucky) says he can win.
- Everything was in place for 2008 to be the year that the Bulldogs returned to the tournament, but then last season’s two leading scorers (Takais Brown and Mike Mercer) were suspended and eventually dismissed before the season even started. By January Rashad Singleton had left the team as well, and two freshmen forwards were done for the year due to injury. Who can win with that?
On the other hand…
- These are Felton’s recruits. He brought them in and any resulting discipline problems still fall at his feet.
- His resume at UGA:
- 71-79 overall
- 26-54 in the SEC
- 0 NCAA tournament appearances
- 1 NIT win
- 4-12 (last in the SEC East) in 2008
- This is a proud program. While Georgia’s never been a basketball power, how long can fans be expected to twiddle thumbs and accept mediocre (and sometimes less than that) basketball? It is, after all, second only to football in terms of visibility and revenue production.
- And speaking of the almighty dollar, attendance is down. Way down. At Thursday’s game, just down the road from one of the greatest college sports cities in the country, Georgia’s delegation was dwarfed by that of Ole Miss. Even Kentucky, whose fans were just there to see who they’d be playing, had nearly as many in attendance as the Bulldogs.
It’s a tough call for Evans, who will be making his first high-profile decision as AD. Depending on which way he was leaning, that decision just became a whole lot easier or whole lot more difficult.
One thing was clear watching the Bulldogs against the Rebels though: Felton hasn’t lost his team. They’re still playing for him just as hard as he’s coaching them. And for that reason, he deserves at least one more year.