Dawgs Move on Without Felton

ATHENS – No matter how long the rumors had swirled, the news of Dennis Felton's termination Thursday still came as a surprise. The coaching staff was still reviewing tape, the players were getting ready for class, but athletics director Damon Evans decided it was time to start preparing for the future.

Pete Herrmann was named the team's interim head coach for the remainder of the season, likely a lame-duck position as Georgia looks to identify the new face of the program – or as Evans referred to the job, "the CEO."

In the meantime, there's still the business of trying to find a few wins this season, and despite the shock of losing their head coach, the Bulldogs aim to salvage as much of their remaining schedule as possible.

"I think you have to put it behind you if you want to win," sophomore guard Zac Swansey said. "You don't have a choice but to do that. You can't sulk on it and feel sorry for yourself. If you do that, there's no way you're going to win a ballgame."

Winning ballgames hasn't come easily to the Bulldogs (9-11, 0-5 SEC) this season, but Felton's dismissal has at least removed the ongoing discussion of the coach's future, which has dogged the team for nearly two years.

With Felton out, the task of resurrecting Georgia's season falls to Herrmann, the former assistant who said he was extremely disappointed by the decision to fire Felton, but never hesitated to take the reigns of the program. "I was brought in to coach basketball here at Georgia and I've been a head coach before," Herrmann said. "I'll do that for our players and keep them together and keep them moving forward as a group."

Moving forward begins with tonight's game against Alabama, an ironic debut for the new-look Bulldogs.

Earlier this week, Crimson Tide coach Mark Gottfried resigned his post after 11 years at Alabama. Assistant Philip Pearson replaced Gottfried as head coach and will lead the Tide against Georgia in Herrmann's debut.

Both teams have struggled in SEC play, with the Tide off to a 2-4 start, having lost four of their past five games, including Pearson's debut against Arkansas on Thursday.

Georgia is embroiled in a seven-game losing streak and has yet to dent the win column in conference play, but Herrmann remains optimistic about the team's potential.

"We feel like we have a very representative group of young men here at Georgia who are going to make this university proud," Herrmann said. "We have nine freshman and sophomores and we feel like they are on the right road to doing that."

The youth in the lineup, however, may have been Felton's ultimate undoing.

Rather than being able to build on the late-season heroics from a year ago, the Bulldogs started fresh this season without Sundiata Gaines and Dave Bliss, two of the heroes of the SEC tournament run.

In their place are talented freshmen like Dustin Ware and Trey Thompkins, but both players have struggled with typical rookie mistakes and did not quickly adapt to Felton's system.

"We are young, and I feel like that's basically the reason we can't turn this corner," senior Terrance Woodbury said. "I don't know how long it's going to last. I know we have good players and we have a good system, but I don't know what it's going to take to turn this corner."

In Felton's final days, several players commented that the Bulldogs weren't playing as a team, that a handful of players were not willing to buy into the system, which emphasized an aggressive and physical defense and often employed a slower approach on offense that frustrated some of the younger players like Thompkins, who said he preferred a more up-tempo attack rather than "running a million sets."

With Herrmann at the helm, the attitude may change, but Swansey doesn't expect the game plan to be significantly different.

"The backbone of this program has always been defense and rebounding and to push the ball," Swansey said. "I think Coach Hermann will continue to do that. And as players, we've got to buy into that."

Whether the Bulldogs can buy into the system under a new coach remains to be seen, but while the task of identifying the future direction of the program is now under way for Evans, the goal for the team on the court remains unchanged.

It is ironic, Swansey said, that the Bulldogs' first crack at earning SEC win No. 1 comes against another team in a similar situation, but he expects that strange twist to simply add another degree of intensity to the game.

"Both teams are going through some tough times right now," Swansey said. "I guess it's going to come down to whoever wants it more. Both teams have a lot going on and both programs have different head coaches than what they started off the season with. We're just going to come out, fight, scratch and claw and try to find a way to win."

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