Character counts

Former Tennessee football coach Johnny Majors had a great saying: "It's easier to recruit character than it is to build it."

Like everyone else, though, Majors recruited his share of character-risk players. When I asked him about this seeming contradiction roughly two decades ago, he explained that he occasionally would take a chance on a "bad apple" if he felt there were enough good apples on the team to elevate the bad apple's character.

Apparently, Dennis Felton didn't have enough good apples. Georgia's head basketball coach has dismissed three of the top players from his program in the past 12 months. Billy Humphrey hit the bricks Friday after his third arrest in the past year. This one was for DUI and some related drinking and driving charges. He was the Dawgs' second-leading scorer as a junior last season at 12.2 points per game, so this is a major blow.

In the previous 11 months assorted off-court misdeeds led Felton to dismiss his top two scorers of 2006-07. He booted 6-8, 260-pound power forward Takais Brown during the offseason and sent 6-4 guard Mike Mercer packing two games into the 2007-08 season.

Hopefully, Felton took these forceful actions because of his desire to field a disciplined team worthy of representing a fine university – not because the administration forced his hand. You'd like to think that his ethics prompted the dismissals, not his bosses.

Regardless, some observers will say Felton got what he deserved, that dismissals are the price you pay for signing kids with questionable character. I suspect the issue was a little more complex than that. Assuming a program five years ago that had been left in disarray by predecessor Jim Harrick, there had to be enormous pressure on Felton to sign heralded in-state recruits Humphrey (Dacula) and Mercer (Snellville). And I'm sure the chance to land a brute with offensive skills, a la Takais Brown, had to be incredibly tempting ... even if there were some red flags attached.

Did gambling on kids with character issues pay off? Not really. Felton's program went 16-14 in Year 1, 8-20 in Year 2, 15-15 in Year 3, 19-14 in Year 4 and 17-17 in Year 5 last winter. Humphrey helped the '07-08 team shock the world by claiming the SEC Tournament title and earning an NCAA bid but that didn't offset the fact the Dawgs were a putrid 4-12 in regular-season league play.

With a 75-80 overall record in Athens that includes a 26-54 SEC mark, Felton is on seriously shaky ground entering the 2008-09 season. His roster is not as talented as it was when he had Brown, Mercer and Humphrey, but team chemistry should be a lot better than in the past. That could help Felton win enough games to ensure his continued employment.

Whether the Top Dawg saves his job or not, though, you hope he learned a lesson:

It's easier to recruit character than it is to build it.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories