Dawg-gone: Felton leaving for Georgia

Joe Lord

The writing on the wall regarding Dennis Felton’s coaching future had been up in pencil for a while.

Now it’s in ink.

As those closest to the program emerged from Diddle Arena into the cold night air just before midnight, rumors began to solidify into reality.

Ending two days of speculation, Felton accepted the head coaching position at the University of Georgia yesterday afternoon, said President Gary Ransdell and Athletic Director Wood Selig.

Georgia will name Felton in a press conference today.

“I’m not disappointed in Dennis,” Ransdell said. “He’s a young man. He’s achieving what he’s determined he wants his career to be, and I’ll always applaud him every step of the way.”

Felton declined to comment last night.

“I don’t have anything to talk about right now,” Felton said as he walked through the doors of the Diddle auxiliary gym after sharing his decision with players, coaches and administrators in the Diddle Arena locker room at 9 p.m.

Georgia officials could not be reached for comment.

The players emerged from Diddle at 10:15 p.m. Ransdell, Selig and Felton left just before midnight.

Freshman guard Anthony Winchester said many of the players were in Diddle for study hall when one of the coaches told them there would be a meeting when they finished.

“I didn’t expect Coach to be here forever,” Winchester said. “He’s an awesome coach and an awesome man. It was going to happen sooner or later.”

Georgia could turn into the promised land for his former coach, he said.

“I think it’s a good career move for Coach Felton,” Winchester said. “I don’t blame him for what he’s doing.”

Junior forward Todor Pandov was likewise at peace with Felton’s decision.

“He was a successful coach, and one of these days he was going to leave.” Pandov said. “It wasn’t a sucker punch.”

Felton talked yesterday afternoon in Nashville with Georgia’s Athletic Director Vince Dooley and Associate Athletic Director Damon Evans for about three hours, Ransdell said. At some point during that meeting, Felton accepted their offer to take over the Bulldogs’ program.

The Atlanta Journal-Consitution had reported since Tuesday that Felton was the choice of Dooley and Georgia President Mike Adams. They picked Felton over former Chicago Bulls head coach Tim Floyd because of Felton’s strong academic background.

Creighton’s Dana Altman, Mercer’s Mark Slonaker and the Atlanta Hawks’ Dominique Wilkins also interviewed with Georgia. Felton was interviewed twice in New Orleans, where he also attended the Final Four.

Ransdell said those interviews were the first bell tolls on Felton’s career at Western.

“I had no doubt in my mind that, if they interviewed him, they were going to hire him,” Ransdell said.

Felton replaces Jim Harrick Sr., who resigned March 27 amid an NCAA investigation into allegations of academic fraud and improper benefits to players.

Selig and Ransdell did not speculate on Felton’s contract with Georgia. He was paid about $400,000 yearly at Western.

Felton leaves Western with a 100-54 record over five years. The Hilltoppers have won the Sun Belt Conference tournament championship the past three years, but they lost in the first round of the NCAAs each year.

Felton joins a list of coaches who have made Western a precursor to jobs in more prominent conferences, including Purdue head coach Gene Keady, former Minnesota head coach Clem Haskins and former Pittsburgh head coach Ralph Willard.

“We’re not naive,” Ransdell said. “I had hoped five years ago that we’d be in this position for Dennis to earn a shot at a program that can pay him what he’s worth.”

Before his arrival on the Hill, Felton was an apprentice under Perry Clark at Tulane and Rick Barnes at Providence and Clemson.

Although Georgia competes in the high-profile Southeastern Conference, Western has won 307 more games and has a bigger arena than the Bulldogs.

Felton’s 2-year-old contract with Western has a $200,000 buyout clause. It says that if a team from one of seven major conferences, such as the SEC, hires him away, that team will also have to play a four game home-and-home series against the Hilltoppers. That series must start in the next two years.

“We’ll see them here,” Selig said.

As for Felton’s replacement, Selig said a committee consisting of himself, Ransdell, faculty-athletics representative James Brown and General Counsel Deborah Wilkins planned to meet at 7:30 this morning to launch the search.

In anticipation of Felton’s announcement, a list of as many as 20 candidates was compiled. There is no time table to fill the vacancy.

Pandov said some of the Hilltoppers already have a favorite: assistant coach Pete Herrmann.

“I think he’s a great choice,” Pandov said. “I know him, and I believe in him.”

Felton brought Herrmann with him when he first came to the Hill five years ago. Pandov spread credit among the two coaches.

“Five seasons ago, Western couldn’t win a game,” Pandov said. “They turned it around.”

Herald news editor Brandy Warren contributed to this report.

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