After an up-and-down five-plus seasons as the Georgia head men’s basketball coach, Dennis Felton has been fired, athletics director Damon Evans announced Thursday morning.
The move comes less than 24 hours after Georgia’s 83-57 defeat at the hands of Florida, sending the Bulldogs’ to 9-11 overall and 0-5 in SEC play.
Associate head coach Pete Herrmann will serve as the team’s interim head coach for the remainder of the season.
“I’m disappointed that things have not worked out better,” Evans said. “I do think it is in the best interest of our men’s basketball program that we move in a new direction, and while this may be unusual timing, I’m convinced it is the right time. I want to extend my best wishes to Dennis and his family and thank him for his service.”
The highlight of Felton’s reign undoubtedly came in last year’s SEC tournament when Georgia won four games in a four-day span to claim its first conference title since 1988.
But the Bulldogs were never able to maintain the magic of last season’s tournament run.
Losing to non-conference opponents such as Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and East Tennessee State, Evans felt it was time to begin the process of looking for a new leader.
“It wasn’t just one thing,” Evans said about his decision to move in a new direction. “It was a culmination of events that led us where we are today. My job is to do an overall evaluation and come to a conclusion. We informed Dennis that we wanted to meet with him, and we met with him early (Thursday) morning and informed him of the decision. It was a quick turnaround, but it was one that was necessary.”
Although Georgia has been to the NCAA tournament only once in the past six years, Evans made it clear that his expectations for the basketball program remain high.
“We have goals and expectations at Georgia for every sport, and that includes competing for championships on a regular basis both on the conference and national levels,” Evans said. “We have a brand new $30 million basketball practice and office facility that is without equal. I believe that we can have success here, and you’ve seen that in the past. We don’t have all the answers yet, but we will figure out what it takes to get this program to a high level of success.”
As for finding a permanent replacement for Felton, Evans said he will take his time before any decision is finalized.
“I have not set a timetable at this time,” Evans said of when he plans to hire a new coach. “To be quite candid, we may be looking at the end of the year before we hire someone. But what this allows us to do is the opportunity to begin the process and maybe get some early identification.”
With the Georgia football program finishing in the top 10 five of the past seven years, Evans feels that it’s time for the basketball program to show the same type of competitiveness.
Although the Bulldogs have not won an NCAA tournament game since beating Murray State in 2002, Evans does not believe in the notion that Georgia cannot be dominant in both sports.
“I don’t believe that you can have one or the other,” Evans said. “I believe that you can have both. Take a look at Tennessee and what they’ve been able to accomplish. Take a look at Florida and what they’ve been able to accomplish. There are plenty of schools around this country that are seen as football schools that have really good basketball programs. I believe that we can do it at Georgia, and our commitment to do it is ever strong.”
Evans said that he will hire a professional staff, which will assist him in the search to find a replacement for Felton, who leaves Georgia with an overall record of 84-91.
“I will enlist the services of a search firm,” Evans said. “I believe that it is important for professionals out there who know the business well to give us advice and assistants in this process. We’re looking for someone to be a CEO of the basketball program here at Georgia, and when I say CEO, you have to have leadership qualities.”
For Georgia’s remaining 11 regular season games, the Bulldogs will turn to Herrmann, who has been with the program throughout Felton’s tenure.
With his team currently in last place in the SEC East, Herrmann, who was the head coach for Navy from 1986-92, is focused on the daunting task that lies ahead.
“In regards to the situation that transpired here at Georgia, I’m going to try to get our (players) ready to play in 48 hours,” Herrmann said. “That’s the main focus of what we’re going to try to do as a staff here. We want to get them ready to compete in the SEC. I haven’t been in this situation before, but we’re going to do what is best for our players and for the university.”