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Thursday, January 29, 2009
Georgia fires Felton

By Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com

ATHENS, Ga. -- Dennis Felton, who last season led Georgia's basketball program to an improbable SEC tournament championship, was fired on Thursday morning, the school announced.
Dennis Felton
Dennis Felton had an 84-91 record in six seasons at Georgia.

Associate coach Pete Herrmann will serve as interim coach for the remainder of the season, the school said at a news conference announcing the move.

Evans' decision came after the Bulldogs lost to Florida 83-57 on Wednesday night, their seventh consecutive defeat. Georgia is 9-11 overall and 0-5 in SEC play.

"I'm disappointed that things have not worked out better," athletic director Damon Evans said in a statement released by the school. "I do think it is in the best interest of our men's basketball program that we move in a new direction.

"While this may be unusual timing, I'm convinced it is the right time," Evans added.

Felton did not immediately return calls from ESPN.com seeking comment.

Felton had an 84-91 record in six seasons at Georgia, including a 26-59 mark against SEC opponents.

Evans seemed poised to fire Felton a year ago, but the Bulldogs won three games in two days to win the SEC tournament. Georgia was forced to play a condensed schedule after Atlanta's Georgia Dome was damaged by a tornado.

By winning the SEC tournament, Georgia won an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, its only appearance on college basketball's biggest stage during Felton's tenure. The No. 14-seeded Bulldogs lost to No. 3 seed Xavier 76-61 in the first round.

Felton inherited a Georgia program that had been crippled by NCAA sanctions. He succeeded Jim Harrick in 2003 after Harrick was fired following the discovery of academic fraud and other NCAA rules violations.

Evans said an assistant athletic director called Felton late Wednesday night to set up a meeting Thursday morning. Evans said he fired Felton about 7 a.m. Thursday.

Under the terms of Felton's contract, Georgia will owe him about $1.5 million to buy out the final two years of his contract, which was scheduled to expire in June 2011. Georgia gave Felton a $50,000 raise and one-year contract extension in March 2007. He was paid $760,000 annually.

After Felton led the Bulldogs to an SEC tournament championship and 17-17 record in 2007-08, Georgia didn't extend his contract.

Felton didn't attend the news conference Thursday and wasn't available for comment.

"I was hoping that we'd build upon the success that we had in the SEC tournament," Evans said. "That's what all the Georgia fans wanted; that's what we wanted; that's what Dennis wanted. We thought it would be a momentum-builder for us. To be where we are today is disappointing."

Evans said the search for Felton's successor would begin immediately. Evans said the school would hire an outside search firm to assist in the interview process.

Among the candidates believed to be high on Georgia's list of potential replacements are Oklahoma's Jeff Capel; Xavier's Sean Miller; UNLV's Lon Kruger; Baylor's Scott Drew; and Virginia Commonwealth's Anthony Grant.

Minnesota coach Tubby Smith, who had a 45-19 record in two seasons at Georgia from 1995 to 1997, also will be considered for the opening, sources close to the situation said. Smith led Georgia to consecutive 20-win seasons before leaving for Kentucky in 1997.

"I'll say this: Our commitment and my commitment to build Georgia basketball is strong," Evans said. "And when I say strong, I'll add very strong onto that. We're going to go out and find the best possible person for this job. That may mean we commit more resources than we have in the past but we're not letting that hold us back from doing what we need to do to have a successful men's basketball program."

Mark Schlabach covers the SEC for ESPN.com.