Georgia hires W. Kentucky's Felton to replace HarrickPosted: Thursday April 10, 2003 12:57 PM
Updated: Friday April 11, 2003 1:46 PM
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) -- Dennis Felton came to Georgia for the chance to build the program into a national championship contender.
With the NCAA investigating charges of academic fraud and improper benefits to players, he might have to wait a while.
Felton was hired Thursday as basketball coach at Georgia, leaving Western Kentucky for a five-year contract worth $700,000 annually.
He replaces Jim Harrick, who resigned, then retired last month, 2 1/2 weeks after being suspended. The scandal also cost Harrick's son a job as an assistant coach and prompted the school to ban the Bulldogs from the SEC and NCAA tournaments.
"Nobody knows precisely what is going to happen," Felton said. "My job is to expect the worst. We are braced for the worst."
He led the Hilltoppers to three straight NCAA tournament appearances and was 100-54 in five seasons. Before that, he worked as an assistant at Providence and Clemson.
"It's a pleasure to have a happy press conference," athletic director Vince Dooley said. "We haven't one of those in a long time."
In looking for Harrick's successor, Georgia used a search firm to run background checks. The screening including criminal records, how well candidates followed NCAA rules, and whether their educational history was accurate.
"We did an extraordinary job of due diligence in this case with all our candidates," Dooley said. "We put a good deal of emphasis on finding the right person, the right fit. He is the right person for Georgia."
His $400,000-a-year contract at Western Kentucky required any school hiring him to enter a four-year home-and-home series with the Hilltoppers. Felton plans to honor the agreement.
"I'm happy to play the four games," he said. "When we came up with that, we thought it was something nobody had done before. And it would be a way for me to repay Western Kentucky for giving me the opportunity. I've never forgotten how lucky I was."
Western Kentucky athletic director Wood Selig said a search for Felton's replacement has started. School officials met Thursday.
"I think they're getting the next great coach," Selig said. "You hear a couple of names every year that burst on the national scene. I don't think it will be very long before Dennis Felton will be mentioned everywhere among the nation's finest men's basketball coaches."
Felton is the second black basketball coach at Georgia, following Tubby Smith, now at Kentucky.
The first order of business for Felton will be getting to know his new players.
Guard Jarvis Hayes already has applied for early entry into the NBA draft, and other players have talked about transferring if the school goes on probation. At least two high school signees also have asked to be released from their letters of intent.
"I'm not interested in try to persuade somebody to stay," Felton said. "I'm coming into this with a lot of respect for what these players have done at Georgia. I'm interested in their interests and their welfare and what they want to get out of Georgia basketball.
"For some, that might mean the best thing is to leave the program."