Felton appears to be headed to UGA

By Keith Parsons

ATLANTA ? No coach has ever been able to guide Georgia to three straight NCAA tournaments. On Wednesday, the Bulldogs appeared poised to hire Dennis Felton, who just accomplished the feat with Western Kentucky.

Felton is apparently Georgia's top choice to replace Jim Harrick. Even though a Georgia athletic department spokesman said no announcement was scheduled, one of Felton's fellow Sun Belt Conference coaches talked as if it were a done deal.

"I think it's a great step up for Dennis," Arkansas State coach Dickey Nutt said Wednesday. "He's the total package. We're very, very glad to be getting rid of him."

Even Western Kentucky athletic director Wood Selig admitted keeping Felton would be a long shot.

"Certainly, there's a part of me that would love to see coach Felton tell Georgia, ?Thanks, I'm going to remain at Western Kentucky,"' Selig said. "But at his age and at this stage of his career, I am realistic enough to understand the long odds we are up against to keep him at Western Kentucky."

On Tuesday, Georgia president Michael Adams told his counterpart at Western Kentucky, Gary Ransdell, that Felton was a "serious candidate." Georgia athletic director Vince Dooley also has interviewed Dana Altman of Creighton and former Chicago Bulls coach Tim Floyd.

Georgia is seeking a replacement for Harrick, who retired amid allegations of academic fraud and improper benefits to players.

Felton has declined interview requests in the past few days.

"I think if he were to make a move, it would be driven predominantly by the ability to win multiple championships," Selig said. "It's not a matter of money. It's all about having greater resources for the program, and a better chance to win consistently."

Felton, 39, has a record of 90-54 with the Hilltoppers, and they've swept the regular season and tournament titles in the Sun Belt the past three seasons. They've also won 39 straight games in the friendly confines of Diddle Arena, the longest streak in the nation.

And he kept the team together without star center Chris Marcus, a 7-footer who missed most of the past two seasons with injuries.

"He's really been able to build that program, and he's been able to maintain it, too," Nutt said. "At the mid-major level, it's so much more difficult to maintain it than it is to build it up."

Felton has had a similar impact off the court at Western Kentucky.

"He's done a fine job of motivating our student body and local community," Selig said. "We've added 16 luxury suites since he's been here, and we've increased our donor foundation by over 100 percent in new membership in the past two years."

That spirit was apparent in the Sun Belt tournament final. Capacity at Diddle Arena is about 8,000, and the sold-out crowd included about 4,000 students.

Selig, who previously worked in the athletic department at Virginia, was overwhelmed.

"I've seen the Dukes and the North Carolinas and all of those hyped arenas, but I have never seen a crowd with a sense of urgency that the Diddle Arena crowd felt that night," he said.

In May 2002, Western Kentucky rewarded Felton with a $400,000-a-year contract through the 2007-08 season.

The deal included a $200,000 buyout clause if Felton accepted a head coaching job in the Southeastern Conference or six other major leagues.