Georgia gives Felton another chance

Georgia was supposed to hold a news conference yesterday. Bulldogs athletic director Damon Evans would have stepped to the podium in front of a microphone and spoke about how much Dennis Felton has done for the program over the last five years, but how he felt it was best to go in another direction.

Georgia was supposed to hold a news conference yesterday. Bulldogs athletic director Damon Evans would have stepped to the podium in front of a microphone and spoke about how much Dennis Felton has done for the program over the last five years, but how he felt it was best to go in another direction.

Then VCU's Anthony Grant would be mentioned for the umpteenth job opening.

Felton and his staff started to hear the rumblings a week before the SEC conference started. They knew it was coming.

He was a dead man walking.

But Evans didn't take into account the resiliency of Felton and his players.

Before the NCAA tournament has even begun, the Cinderella story has emerged. Forget about those mid-majors. If there's a team that the nation should wrap its arms around and pull for when the Big Dance gets going later this week, it's the Georgia Bulldogs.

If I'm Sean Miller, the coach of the No. 3 seed Xavier, I would have popped a few sleeping pills or something after receiving the word that his Musketeers had drawn the assignment of having to face the hottest team in the country in the first round.

The No. 14 seed is usually reserved for the winner, of say, the Big West or the Sun Belt.

However, Miller will play a team that enters this tournament with more swagger and mental fortitude than anyone else in the country.

"We don't care who we play," Georgia's senior guard Sundiata Gaines said. "It doesn't matter."

Not after the Bulldogs reeled off four consecutive victories to win the SEC tournament and earn an automatic berth.

Miller knows all about brimming confidence. Four years ago, Xavier ran off four straight wins to claim the A-10 tournament. The Musketeers also received a No. 14 seed and lost in a close game to heavily favored Gonzaga in the first round.

"We went into that one with great confidence," Miller said. "This Georgia team isn't the same team it was in February. We know that well because we were that team three years ago."

Gaines showed his New York toughness throughout the entire tournament and took home the hardware for MVP honors. Then you throw in fellow senior Dave Bliss, the big man who is a poor man's — no, make that a poverty-stricken — version of Tyler Hansbrough, and you have two veterans who willed their team to victories.

Remember, this is a team that should have a starting lineup that includes talented guard Mike Mercer and big man Takais Brown. Those two guys led the team in scoring a year ago, but were kicked off the squad for not meeting the academic requirements that have been implemented in the past year.

Kudos to Evans for focusing on academics and holding the players accountable. However, the young and bright athletic director also needs to realize that Felton is running the program the right way and deserves the benefit of the doubt with all he's had to deal with in the aftermath of the Jim Harrick mess.

Does he want to win at any cost as Harrick did? Or run a clean program — as Felton has done in Athens and in his days at Western Kentucky?

Felton is down to eight scholarship players, but the Bulldogs still found a way to win three games in 36 hours after a tornado forced them to play a day-night doubleheader on Saturday.

Shortly after the victory against Arkansas in the title game, Evans had no choice but to come out publicly and give Felton an endorsement as Georgia's coach for next year.

"He'll definitely be back," Evans said. "We had a tough year, but when it ended like this, it shows a lot about his ability."

No kidding.

Other coaches were already angling for the job to replace Felton. He probably had begun the process of calling his real estate agent in preparation.

"It's been such a bizarre year," said Melanie Felton, the coach's wife, with tears streaming down her face after the championship. "Everything went so badly all year, surely something good had to happen."

Something did. Felton still has his job.

Jeff Goodman is a senior college basketball writer for FOXSports.com. He can be reached at GoodmanonFOX@aol.com or check out his blog, Good 'N Plenty.

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