Dennis Felton, who is 71-79 in his fifth year on the job, called it “bizarre that there would be a question about whether I’m doing a good enough job to be able to remain as Georgia’s coach.”
“Put some perspective on it,” he said.
That job will be left to others. Felton’s job is being reviewed by Georgia’s athletics administration, but no decision has been made, athletics director Damon Evans said after the game.
There are only three teams in the country in recent history who have had to come from as far back as Felton and his staff in rebuilding a program, he said, naming Baylor, St. John’s and St. Bonaventure.
Felton took over after the messy firing of Jim Harrick, whose tenure landed Georgia on NCAA probation and in the punch line of jokes across the country. His second team at Georgia played with half the maximum number of scholarship players and no upperclassmen.
The Bulldogs have yet to reach the NCAA Tournament under Felton and won’t this year unless they win next week’s SEC Tournament in Atlanta.
The three teams he listed faced similarly major efforts in almost identical time frames to get back to respectability, he said.
“It’s actually kind of a convenient comparison,” he said. “We have played in a tougher league based on RPI than all of those programs. We have played a much, much tougher schedule, based on RPI, than all those teams, and we have won more games than all of them. We have won more conference games than all of them.”
Baylor is 21-9 overall and 9-7 in the Big 12 this season. St. John’s finished the regular season 11-19 and 5-13 in the Big East, and St. Bonaventure is 8-22 overall and 2-14 in its league heading into the Atlantic 10 tournament.
In each of the last three seasons, Georgia’s win total increased and there was optimism heading into this season until the dismissal of starters Mike Mercer and Takais Brown for violation of team rules.
“This has been a disappointing season for what reason?” Felton asked. “Because we had done so well we built expectations. There were some people calling us a top 25 team in the preseason and calling us a team that has a real good chance of making a postseason tournament.”
When a sports information representative tried to stop the session to get Felton to his post-game radio show, Felton said “Hold on,” and continued to argue his case.
“There’s no doubt this year we took a step backward, but you guys do the research. Look at the programs that are anything like our circumstances in the same time frame, and it’s actually not even close,” he said. “We’ve won a lot more games than all of them. I don’t know that all of them had as tough a situation as we inherited, and I’m almost positive that they didn’t have all the things to deal with that we’ve had to deal with since we’ve been in this position. I remain very, very proud of the job that we do and that we’ve done.”
The Bulldogs will play Ole Miss, which they lost to Saturday, on Thursday in the first round of the SEC Tournament. That game is sure to be crucial to Felton’s job status, but he seemed insulted that he would be thinking about that.
“Do you actually think that I’ll coach any harder or better if I’m concentrating on something like that?” he asked. “The answer is no.”
All that said, Felton is aware of the realities, he said.
“Coaches are always aware that it’s a volatile industry,” he said. “All of us have people who can decide to fire us. That doesn’t change. Every coach can get fired; (New England Patriots coach) Bill Belichick got fired.”
Point guard Sundiata Gaines and wing player Terrance Woodbury defended their coach.
“Coach Felton has been a good coach,” Gaines said. “At this moment in time, I think he’s going to be here next year, but if other people think otherwise or the Athletic Association thinks it’s time for him to move on, then it’s up to them. All we can do is just play. We have to let everybody else take care of the outside other stuff.”
Woodbury added, “He can’t play for us. I’m sure if he could play for us, he probably would win.”