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Georgia has not yet hired a basketball coach

There is mutual interest - but, as of Tuesday night, no deal - between Georgia and Western Kentucky coach <b>Dennis Felton.</b>

Felton appears to be the pick over former Chicago Bulls coach Tim Floyd as the top choice in Georgia's search for a successor to Jim Harrick, who resigned last month under the pressure of an ongoing investigation into the basketball program.

Felton, who has guided Western Kentucky to three straight NCAA tournament appearances, winning 24 or more games each season, may have an official offer from Georgia as early as today, but Georgia officials insisted late Tuesday it was too early to proclaim the search complete.

"An offer has not been made at this point in time,'' said Georgia associate athletic director Damon Evans Tuesday evening. "We hope by the end of this week to have someone in place.''

Added Evans: "Are we sitting down with anyone tonight negotiating anything with anyone? No, we have not.''

After the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on its web site Tuesday afternoon that Georgia had picked Felton as its new coach, Georgia's sports information department issued a release saying the job had not been offered to any candidate as of 5 p.m.

If not for bad weather, however, it is possible Georgia might be closer to locking in Felton as the new coach. Georgia athletic director Vince Dooley returned to Athens Tuesday from New Orleans, where he, Evans and University of Georgia president Michael Adams conducted final interviews with Felton, Floyd and other candidates.

It is believed Dooley planned to fly from Athens to Bowling Green, Ky., to meet with Felton again - and perhaps to make the official offer - but weather postponed the travel plans.

Evans, however, said he and Dooley "still have some things we need to discuss ... and then come to a decision as to where we are'' before an official offer can be made.

Added Evans: "I guess the best way to put it is we have not made the offer and continue to evaluate the people we have looked at to make sure the individual we pick is right for the University of Georgia.''

Evans also told some Georgia players, including Damien Wilkins, that no offer has been made to Felton. Wilkins said he called Evans when word began spreading Tuesday Georgia would hire Felton.

Meanwhile, Felton was back in Bowling Green Tuesday where he told his staff members he has not received an offer from Georgia.

Felton, 39, has a strong 90-54 record in five seasons at Western Kentucky. An independent search firm hired by Georgia has compiled background checks on all candidates, and Felton's strong showing in that test may be at least as important to Adams, Dooley and Evans.

With a 65-60 loss to Illinois in the first round of this year's NCAA tournament, Felton's Western Kentucky team finished 24-9. His 2001-02 team finished 28-4, earning Felton Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year honors and also earning the coach a contract extension through the 2007-08 season. Felton earns more than $400,000 annually. Harrick was earning about $600,000 per year at Georgia.

Felton has a unique buyout clause that would cost Georgia approximately $200,000 - plus two trips to Bowling Green. The buyout must be paid if Felton accepts a job at an Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Pac-10, Big East, Big 12 or Conference USA.

Also included in Felton's buyout clause is a guarantee that the major-conference school hiring Felton schedules Western Kentucky for a four-year, home-and-home series of games. The series with Western Kentucky must start within two years.

Due to its growing reputation as a mid-major capable of beating major conference teams, Western Kentucky has had difficulty luring opponents to E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green.

This season, Felton's Hilltoppers beat Auburn 89-70 in a game played in Nashville.

Before taking the job at Western Kentucky on March 23, 1998, Felton spent four years on Rick Barnes' staff at Clemson. Felton also was an assistant coach for Barnes at Providence (1992-94), and previously worked as an assistant coach at Delaware (1986-90), Tulane (1990-91) and St. Joseph's (1991-92).

A native of Clinton, Md., Felton played at Prince George's Community College in Largo, Md., before transferring to Howard University, where he was a cum laude graduate in 1985. At Howard, Felton was a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference All-Academic selection.

In his senior year at Howard, Felton began his coaching career as an assistant at Oxon Hill (Md.) High School.

Regarded as one of the top young head coaches in college basketball, Felton was a candidate when Tennessee hired Buzz Peterson in 2001. Felton did not return phone messages Tuesday.


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