UGA’s in the NCAA, and Dennis Felton deserves a thank-you

Give that man a hand! His players are playing in the Big Dance! (AJC photo by Rich Addicks)

Give that man a hand! His recruits are playing in the Big Dance! (AJC file photo)

Charlotte – Mark Fox has received and deserves much credit for lifting the Georgia Bulldogs to the NCAA tournament in his second season. When Fox arrived from Nevada in the spring of 2009, this was a program with little credibility and no real reason to believe anything would get any better soon. But as we prepare to watch the Bulldogs work against Washington on Friday night, it seems the appropriate time to reconsider …

Dennis Felton?

Dennis Felton was fired by then-athletic director Damon Evans on Jan. 29, 2009 — 10 1/2 months after Felton saved his job by leading Georgia to the bolt-from-the-blue SEC tournament title and NCAA tournament appearance. The knocks on Felton were many: He hadn’t won big, he hadn’t connected with fans and (this above all) he hadn’t recruited well enough in a state where basketball recruits are plentiful.

But when we look on Fox’s second Georgia team, we see his predecessor’s recruits. Only one of the top six Bulldogs — guard Gerald Robinson Jr., a transfer — arrived on Fox’s watch. Big men Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes were signed in 2007. Felton’s 2008 recruiting class was his best, although it didn’t seem nearly as good as it does now.

Trey Thompkins, Travis Leslie and Dustin Ware were the key figures in a group rated the nation’s 28th-best by Rivals. When it became clear that Felton’s job was no longer secure in 2008, he would point to those incoming recruits as cause for hope. Evans didn’t really buy it; had Georgia lost at any point in the 2008 SEC tournament, he’d have fired Felton then. When Georgia won the relocated event on the weekend of the tornado, the AD tabled the matter and let the coach stay.

By January 2009, the new recruits hadn’t made an imprint. A 23-point home loss to the worst Kentucky team of the past 20 years prompted this correspondent to write that Felton had to go, and 10 days later Georgia lost at Florida by 26 to fall to 9-11 and 0-5 in SEC play. Evans fired Felton the next morning.

Three years later, the freshmen of 2008-2009 are rather different. Thompkins and Leslie will surely become the first and last of Felton’s recruited Bulldogs to be drafted by an NBA team. (Rashad Wright was the final player picked in 2004, but he signed under Jim Harrick.) Thompkins arrived as a four-star recruit; Leslie and Ware as three-star prospects.

Felton inherited Harrick’s mess and couldn’t quite sweep it away. His highest-rated signee, Louis Williams of South Gwinnett, chose the NBA draft. The gifted Mike Mercer hurt his knee in 2007 and then got kicked off the team. Through Felton’s 5 1/2 seasons the Bulldogs’ roster was in constant flux — players left so fast you’d forget they were ever there — but the worst part was that the highest-rated players this state produced didn’t land in Athens. It was no coincidence Felton got fired two weeks after Derrick Favors of South Atlanta chose Georgia Tech.

Time, however, can do funny things, and time has made us rethink Dennis Felton. Not so much as a coach — he’d had long enough, and he simply hadn’t won enough — but as the assembler of the recruiting class that has afforded Fox a flying start. Ware has been a solid player, but Thompkins and Leslie have risen far above their recruiting rankings. And all three are from Georgia.

Would they have developed under Felton the way they have under Fox? Probably not. Felton had no flair for designing an offense. But was Fox a lucky man for landing with a new team that had so much raw talent? Absolutely. Fox has turned Thompkins and Leslie into fine collegiate players, but Felton brought them to Athens. If nothing else, he got that part right.

By Mark Bradley

51 comments Add your comment

JDawg1785

March 18th, 2011
2:45 pm

Thanks, Coach Felton!

Buck Commander

March 18th, 2011
2:45 pm

Buck Commander

March 18th, 2011
2:45 pm

Coach Cool

March 18th, 2011
2:46 pm

Michigan 75, Tennessee 45.

SEC! SEC! SEC!

Rickster

March 18th, 2011
2:51 pm

The heck with 1st, 2nd or 3rd…. I’m 15 for 18!

Rickster

March 18th, 2011
2:55 pm

Although 4th ain’t too bad.

Come Back Tubby

March 18th, 2011
2:57 pm

Also, Daniel Miller, Tech’s starting center had signed a letter of intent with UGA before the Felton dismissal. Another big body could have been available.

Michael

March 18th, 2011
3:06 pm

meh…if recruiting were all that mattered, Jim Donnan would still be our football coach. Felton sucked. Good riddance.

robodawg

March 18th, 2011
3:06 pm

Felton came into the lowest point in Georgia basketball. Harrick’s last team was so talented, so dynamic, expectations were growing strong for that postseason. The sudden revelations and cancelling the postseason was devastating.

Felton was a solid coach, he knew how to manage a game, but ultimately things just got out of his control. Certainly wish him the best.

Luigi

March 18th, 2011
3:10 pm

Kudo Bars to everyone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

PMC

March 18th, 2011
3:12 pm

um no. Mr. Felton was paid well during his tenure. He did a very nice job trying to run a clean program that performed academically. He was thanked for that.

The Basketball played at UGA under his tenure was not good…. not only that… it was boring.

Tucker T

March 18th, 2011
3:13 pm

Where is Felton now?

Guy Incognito

March 18th, 2011
3:14 pm

The Akron rubbers (do they still make tires there?) are giving ND trouble

THWGT

March 18th, 2011
3:15 pm

Is this anything like:

Georgia Tech won the 2009 ACC Football Championship, and Chan Gailey deserves a big thank you!!

Nope….. The Techies are convinced Paul Johnson is the “genius” behind that. They don’t get logical thinking.

PMC

March 18th, 2011
3:17 pm

Felton lost far too many leads in the second half…. kind of like this group did this year.

Seemed like everytime they played Tennessee the Dawgs would be up in the second half, then they would brick 48 3pt attempts while playing no defense…. no timeouts were called for 10 minutes… then loss.

Felton is gone, because Felton did not produce enough wins.

PMC

March 18th, 2011
3:18 pm

What are we going to start thanking Hewitt… becuase he had a few good recruits?

Mark Bradley

March 18th, 2011
3:24 pm

Last I heard, Dennis Felton was living in Atlanta scouting for the Phoenix Suns.

joe

March 18th, 2011
3:33 pm

As I predicted yesterday, two down, one to go…Vandy, UT, who is next to go down in the first round? UGA

Dan

March 18th, 2011
3:42 pm

Sundiata Gaines played in the NBA and was recruited by Felton. Not that I care, because I hates Felton as a coach.

Beast from the East

March 18th, 2011
3:43 pm

Mark,
Now that UT got HAMMERED by the Wolverines and sent home in the first round, do you think Pearl will be shown the door? I suspect that a large number of UT fans will change their mind about keeping him after that meltdown, don’t you?

Rickster

March 18th, 2011
3:55 pm

ND beats Akron 69-56. I’m 16-3 now! :-)

JB

March 18th, 2011
3:57 pm

True, but give me six great food ingredients, and I still can cook a good meal with them……..The guy couldn’t coach in the Big Time…..

Jackets 2011

March 18th, 2011
3:59 pm

@THWGT
Dawg fans don’t think much of Donnan for one reason: Losing three straight to Tech.
Gailey started four straight wins over the Canes with three of them, beat a ranked NC State and beat Auburn twice, one time after Buck picked Auburn as the lock of the week.
That call probably lost some betting Dawg fans some coin.
But zero for five in the arch rival game?
Had Donnan done that, you’d have tarred and feathered him.
Get real.

gdawginkalamazoo

March 18th, 2011
4:02 pm

I always thought that Felton did damn fine job. He performed as well as anybody could under the circumstances that he entered the UGA program with. People tend to forget that we are lucky that ANYBODY took that job with what Harrick and Adams did to it. Also we now know what lack of guidance the AD gave him while he was here. And don’t think that that doesn’t make a big difference, it does.

Our program was so low to the ground that top recruits were hard to find. Felton has to be proud of what his kids are doing this year. He had to be run down and burned out from the process of building the program back up. Who could blame him? I will always see him as good coach given an impossible task to complete. As you said he left Fox with a load of talent and Fox has been able to take this team a little higher up the slope of respectability.

gdawginkalamazoo

March 18th, 2011
4:16 pm

Beast, for the record I have you guys going to the final four in one of my brackets.

Rickster

March 18th, 2011
4:18 pm

Villanova leading George Mason by 6 with < 4minutes to go.

Beast from the East

March 18th, 2011
4:20 pm

gdawginkalamazoo,
I have the Gators winning it all! I know there is a small probablility that it will happen but I just couldn’t bring myself to pick it any other way. I guess you could call me delusional, as I’m just another “homer” in SEC country.
Hope your Dawgs come out firing tonight. I’ll be pulling for them.

Marlon

March 18th, 2011
4:27 pm

I too was at that UK vs UGA game in Athens. That game was played on MLK weekend and there was no more than 500 UGA fans in attendance. I’m a baptist minister and we are known for inflating the attendance counts (LOL) and I given UGA the benefit of the doubt when I say UGA had 500 fans. Stegman Coliseum was a sea of blue that day. It was the worst home college basketball atmosphere I have ever seen. What made matters worse was that UGA came out of the locker room first and then UK came out later and the arena exploded. I too emailed Damon Evans and told him that was the worst college basketball atmosphere I have ever seen and no big time recruit would go there. Stegman coliseum needed a major overhaul. I really thought Felton was a great choice based upon his success at Western Kentucky but things just didn’t jell for him.

Rickster

March 18th, 2011
4:39 pm

Dang. George Mason pulls out a 61-57 win over Villanova. Dang! Shoulda picked Mason.

Now I’m 16 – 4 so far.

Clueless at the AJC

March 18th, 2011
4:44 pm

So if the Reverend Richt is fired as Georgia football coach and the next coach has a winning season does Richt get credit?…………..NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
That’s like Curry trying to take credit from Gene Stallings at Bama when he won a National Championship………….AGAIN NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Fox get ALL the credit!

Not Don Waddell

March 18th, 2011
5:06 pm

Thanks Coach Felton. If he had recruited Tanner Smith and Andre Young instead of Ebukah Anyaorah and Drazen Zloravic, think how good UGA would be this year. Tanner Smith was BEGGING for a UGA offer and Felton simply would not do it. Anyone who saw Wesleyan’s championship game that year saw Tanner Smith DOMINATE without Thompkins on the court.

For every positive thing Felton did, there were about 3 negatives to accompany it.

KevinM

March 18th, 2011
5:31 pm

Rickster, I can easily say you are getting it done….I have missed 5 and twisted on George Mason….Zona outlasts Memphis….keeps me close…for now.
Gonna be an exciting end to Day 3 of the tourney.

MarkB, yes, Felton does get some credit and Fox hasn’t stepped into a no-talent team. But he has helped himself with his own players and looks to be stablizing the Dogs…something they haven’t had in a long time. Fox wins tonight, someone better up the ante on his salary to keep the wolves at bay.

I see Washington though..they are a 7 seed and should have been a 4 or 5…ask Louisville and Vandy.

Mark Bradley

March 18th, 2011
5:33 pm

But Sundiata Gaines wasn’t drafted, Dan.

Einsteindawg

March 18th, 2011
5:40 pm

Coach Felton was an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, inside a conundrum. How could he recruit so well against the bigger schools in Kentucky and win big, consistently at WKY, and be such a dud at UGA?

UGASlobberknocker

March 18th, 2011
5:56 pm

Felton could recruit better than he could coach. In addition to his mediocre coaching, for whatever reason, he also couldn’t keep a team together..every year there was way too much turnover. Discipline, academics, transfers due to his strict atmosphere..players would come and go. Winning that 2008 tourney just set back UGA another year IMO. Even tho it was a great run

UGASlobberknocker

March 18th, 2011
5:57 pm

Re bracket 11-11 thru 22 games ..hanging my head in shame now

Bruce Pearl's Oysters

March 18th, 2011
6:09 pm

Memphis just got jobbed as Arizona gets half a dozen favorable calls in the last two minutes….

Bruce Pearl's Oysters

March 18th, 2011
6:11 pm

Felton was a good guy….a poor stepbrother to Paul Hewitt, who was paid much less and fired much more quickly, but was of equally dubious ability at a major school.

Bruce Pearl's Oysters

March 18th, 2011
6:13 pm

A priest, a rabbi, a UGA fan, and an AJC columnist walk into a bar….

Paul in RDU

March 18th, 2011
6:14 pm

I just checked the brackets – only 3 lower seeded teams (Gonzaga, Richmond and Morehead State) have won out of 22 games played. FSU could make it 4 out of 23

Beast from the East

March 18th, 2011
6:15 pm

UGASlobberknocker,
Not doing much better at 13-9 in my bracket. No matter……it’s just fun to play.

Beast from the East

March 18th, 2011
6:16 pm

Paul,
I started to just go with all the higher seeds to see how I would fare, but I ended up going with my gut. Lesson learned.

Paul in RDU

March 18th, 2011
6:30 pm

Beast,
I am 14-9 with FSU’s win. I never go with all the top seeds – I figure you need a couple of good lower seeded bracket busters to have a chance to win. Unfortunately I flamed out on all of them – Belmont, Oakland, Wofford.

Herschel Talker

March 18th, 2011
6:40 pm

MB:

So you’re saying that a new coach came in and early on took the prior coach’s players to a higher level? Gee, what a rarity. In other news, the sky is blue. C’mon man, you can do better than that. This column makes your fiasco bracket look good.

HT

LET’S GO DAWGS!!!

St. Clarkston

March 18th, 2011
7:35 pm

Felton was a good man and coach. There was just something about him and the program that didn’t click. Hope he gets another shot as a head coach somewhere.

Trevinb

March 18th, 2011
9:13 pm

Mark, I ran into Dennis at the Dome right before the Tennessee-Ark game. We talked about 5 minutes, and he seemed very happy. I thought he said he was scouting for the Spurs but may have said Suns. I thanked him for the recruits and wished him the best. He seemed uncomfortable when I asked if had seen the arena remake. He has not been back to Athens.

Coach K

March 19th, 2011
12:25 am

So if Felton recruited all these star NBA caliber players, why didn’t he produce wins?

athdog

March 19th, 2011
12:34 am

Okay. Point taken. So now we’ll give Coach Donnan credit for Coach Richt’s first SEC title in ‘02.
To be a good coach in college you have to recruit AND coach. Felton maybe recruited one good class, but without catching lightning in a bottle at the tornado impacted tourney, he’s just another Ron Jirsa.

UGA REALLY STANDS FOR JOE DIRT

March 19th, 2011
12:45 am

Well, that was a quick exit! UGA will lose 4 of it’s top 6 guys and struggle next year. Fox should head over to NCST! UGA has 2 1st round picks and couldn’t win an NCAA game. At least hewitt won a game before losing to a legit top 10 program in Ohio state. I can’t believe anyone really thought UGA was going to do anything when this program is nothing in college hoops. They won’t make the NIT next year! BANK ON IT!

McGarrett

March 19th, 2011
4:57 am

Last I heard he’s working an executive operations position with the Spurs.