Ah, spring. The time when a young man's thoughts turn to love, baseball, and competing plans for how to deal with an underperforming basketball program. University of Georgia Athletic Director Damon Evans is still a young man relatively speaking. And his tenure at the helm of the state's largest collegiate athletic enterprise has been relatively bucolic.
Now however, Evans is on the horns of a dilemma. Dennis Felton is on the defensive. The 2007-2008 season is officially a disappointment. True, the 'Dawgs have a thursday SEC Tournament game against Ole Miss. Despite their 14 point loss to the Rebels over the weekend, Georgia could win that game. They could even win a second round game. But unless they win the tournament (which is about as likely as Terrelle Pryor buying all of his Christmas presents in June), the next loss will be the last one of the season.
And when that loss occurs, one has to wonder: What will Damon do? To be sure, coaches with worse records than Dennis Felton have kept their jobs. Coaches with better records have lost theirs. It's all a question of progress versus expectations. To be sure, not everything that has gone on this season has been Dennis Felton's fault. In fact, I think Damon Evans should immediately discard from consideration those things that are most emphatically not Felton's fault at all. I think the list breaks down like this:
Not Coach Felton's fault: 1) Injuries to Billy Humphrey, Jeremy Jacob, Chris Barnes, and seemingly everyone else who walks within a half mile of the Stege. The injury to Mike Mercer last season against South Carolina may very well have been the zero point of Coach Felton's demise. It's really been all downhill from there. But you'll never be able to convince me that this season would have turned out differently with true freshmen playing the lion's share of the minutes down low. 2) Playing in the SEC East. Make no mistake, the SEC was a rough neighborhood from 2005-2007, and Felton's squad won some games and stayed close in others that they had no business being in contention for. But 2007-2008 was supposed to be the season when Felton's team took advantage of youth across the league to make a move. No one expected us to be better than Tennessee, but isn't 4-12 in conference just a tad unacceptable? 3) Jim $#@^! Harrick. Make no mistake, Coach Felton was airdropped into the aftermath of a hurricane. He did an admirable job of righting the ship in those first 2-3 seasons. But his stock has been stagnant to decling for the past 14 months.
At least partially Coach Felton's fault: 1) Takais Brown's departure, whatever the reason. Maybe it was drug tests. Maybe it was academics. Probably we'll never know. But there's no doubt that when Felton's offense worked last season, it worked because Brown was able to score in the paint and collapse defenses down, giving Humphrey and crew time to shoot on the perimeter. I know Coach Felton cannot literally drive Takais Brown to study hall and force him to come over to chateau Felton for sleepovers on the weekend. But when you put all your eggs in one basket, you can't complain when the bottom falls out of the basket. 2) Failure to have a post-Takais backup plan. While Albert Jackson has looked good at times, and is definitely better with the ball than he was last season, he's still not Takais Brown. Nor is Dave Bliss. Felton simply did not have another inside scoring threat ready to go. That's a talent development issue. And talent development is one of the things coaches get paid for. 3) Mike Mercer's departure. See everything above, only with different replacements. 4) Rashaad Singleton's transfer. It would have been great to have another big body inside down the stretch. You'll never get me to believe that Felton couldn't have convinced Singleton to at least stay with the team through the end of the season, since he was already enrolled anyway.
Entirely Coach Felton's fault: 1) systemically recruiting players unable to meet the standards set by the University and athletic department, then building his team around them, 2) an offense that careens unpredictably between nonsensical and impotent, 3) the seeming inability of his players to inbound the ball, keep track of the shotclock, or do any number of other little things that lose road games in the SEC.
This is an incomplete list to be sure. But I think the running theme is that we are where we are not because bad things beyond Coach Felton's control happened (which they most emphatically did), but because when they did the Felton regime was generally unprepared for them, and sometimes partially to blame for the extent of the problem. By way of analogy, if Dennis Felton were your insurance agent, your Buckhead mansion would be insured for $50,000 and he wouldn't have the foggiest idea what your deductible is.
This is really the first big personnel decision of the Evans era. Replacing Suzanne Yoculan ahead of her retirement and firing a golf coach who exhibited chronic poor judgment were truly no-brainer moves. This one is difficult though. I'm sure some of you will have some incisive feedback on the topic. Let me hear from you. If you were Damon Evans, what would you do?