Durham: Georgia's Future is Bright

Hugh Durham has seen Georgia's basketball program through many of its best days, and despite the team's current status as SEC bottom-feeders, he doesn't think the Bulldogs are too far from being competitive once again.

Durham, who was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame last weekend, said he still believes the position of head coach at Georgia is among the best jobs in the country, and if the school finds the right fit for its current vacancy, the program could be on the fast track back to national prominence.

"The record indicates that they haven't been competitive in SEC play, but I think the University of Georgia is a quality job," Durham said. "I think (Georgia athletics director) Damon Evans is committed to a competitive basketball program. … When you have the commitment that Georgia has now along with the facilities and in-state talent, there's no reason that Georgia shouldn't do well, and I think it will."

During his tenure at Georgia, Durham took the Bulldogs to the NCAA tournament five times, including a trip to the Final Four in 1983, but the program has struggled to find the same consistency since hid departure in 1995.

Tubby Smith followed and turned in two successful seasons before leaving for Kentucky. Ron Jirsa's teams struggled before Jim Harrick took over the program and again found success. Harrick's tenure ended with NCAA sanctions, however, and Dennis Felton, who was fired by Evans in January, was never able to turn the program around.

The checkered history during the past 15 seasons, Durham said, shows what Georgia is capable of accomplishing, but the team has lacked the consistency at the coaching position to find continued success.

"I think Felton was a good coach, and we were on the brink with Tubby and Harrick," Durham said, "but there were just changes or circumstances that just pushed success backwards."

That's what makes the decision Evans will make at some point in the next four to six weeks so important.

With the right coach, Durham said it is just a matter of time before Georgia is once again an annual threat for an NCAA tournament bid, and the building blocks for the future are all in place to become an elite team at the national level.

In recent years, Georgia has made significant improvements to Stegeman Coliseum and built a state-of-the-art practice facility that should make the school a prime target for recruits, Durham said.

"Their practice facility is the best in the country," he said. "I don't think Georgia will lose a player because of facilities now."

Convincing those players that Georgia can be a winner, however, remains a challenge that the program's next head coach must be willing and able to undertake.

Durham said few states offer as much local talent at the high-school level, but Georgia's failure to lure many of those players to Athens in recent years has made winning nearly impossible.

"One of the qualities that I feel confident that Damon's going to be looking for is somebody that can recruit the state of Georgia and persuade those talented players to become Bulldogs," Durham said. "That's one of the critical things. Of course you want to hire somebody that has integrity and knows the game, but we have to get good players."

Durham's confidence in Georgia's future isn't just based on a personal affinity for his former employer, he said. The template for success has already been created just a few hours south.

When Durham helmed Georgia in the 1980s, the school's basketball history wasn't much different than that of the Florida Gators. In fact, the Bulldogs had better recent track record of success.

The Gators, however, made a similar commitment to winning in the 1990s that Evans has helmed recently in Athens, and the hiring of Billy Donovan added the final piece to the puzzle for a program that has won two national championships in the past four years.

Now, Georgia is looking for the right coach to put the pieces in place for its own resurgence, and Durham said he's confident that Evans will find the same secret to success Florida was able to.

"(Donovan) has been able to establish Florida as a very successful program, and I think looking at the success that they've had, that would indicate that it can be done," Durham said. "It's just a question of getting the right person. I think that Georgia can be very competitive conference-wise and be consistent at the national level. To what degree, that's going to depend on who we get."

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