PLAYGROUND NOTES: He’ll be missed, but Georgia lands peach in Felton

J. Michael Moore

Cry if you must.

Curse if you feel obligated.

But the facts will never change – as fuzzy as they may still be.

Western men’s basketball head coach Dennis Felton is one of the best young coaches in the nation. His success has garnered national attention and gotten his name mentioned in countless job hunts.

So it shouldn’t have been a surprise that he was named as a frontrunner for the coaching vacancy at the University of Georgia in the first place.

Or that he actually took the job.

We know for sure now.

Felton has officially bounced.

But the proverbial hand has been writing on the wall for a while concerning Western’s basketball future.

Felton may be No. 1 in the hearts of Bowling Green, but he has a list full of options and a bag full of reasons to leave the Hill in search of greener and flatter pastures.

You see, Dennis is what they call a savior – a basketball messiah, who seems to have a knack for pulling programs out of the gutter and polishing them up for the national stage.

He did it with Western.

And, with time, he’ll do it at Georgia.

So can you blame him for heading south, petting a Bulldog and smiling for flashbulbs?

After Western’s 65-60 loss to Illinois in this year’s NCAA Tournament, I had a feeling things would change.

Sure, it was the third-straight tournament loss for the Toppers. Felton wasn’t in much of a position to vacate, except for his 100-54 record at Western and a lengthy assistant coaching resum?.

But something just didn’t feel right.

Turns out it was just Felton’s time.

I was in Athens, Ga., the weekend after the Illinois game, watching the Lady Toppers in their NCAA quest.

No one really talked about Jim Harrick – the former Bulldog coach who has become synonymous with cheating, scandal and shame. You knew that Georgia would move quickly and get someone from a mid-major college itching to get the big-time chance.

You could almost see Felton stalking the red and black sideline with a new group of “Fanatics” tucked away in the end zones wearing “G”s instead of “W”s.

It is Dennis Felton’s time.

Shots at the Southeastern Conference don’t come around everyday, especially at a school that needs a savior and with such loose strings attached.

The Bulldogs are limping, cowering under the shadow of imminent NCAA sanctions. Felton not only has a shot at the big time, but he has room to negotiate a favorable contract.

Some may call UGA’s coaching quagmire baggage. But it could turn out as Felton’s biggest opportunity.

Not many SEC jobs like this one will come open in the next few years. Felton already dodged an attempt to be head man at Arkansas. The only other perennial coaching hole is at Vanderbilt – uh, yeah.

This is about reading the crystal ball and taking chances.

Georgia will have its ups, downs, critics and punishments. But Felton is looking only at the door swinging open in front of him.

The stink from the Bulldogs’ mess won’t find its way to the bottom of Felton’s loafers. He’s the new guy. The man with nowhere to go but up.

There are no ghosts haunting Felton’s back, except the specter of failure and greed. He’ll have his shot to build a winner at a historic powerhouse, without dynasty’s prying eyes.

Felton can be himself for the first couple of years.

No need to worry about the North Carolina or UCLA complex that has gotten so many good coaches fired.

It’s not the greatest job in America, but it’s Felton’s best fit.

He’s squeaky clean and looking at the ladder to success.

Can you blame him?

J. Michael Moore is a sports reporter for the Herald. He can be reached at [email protected]