Epps: Gottfried gone but not Felton

Epps: Gottfried gone but not Felton

January 27th, 2009 by Darren Epps in Sports

One coach is less than five years removed from a spot in the NCAA Elite Eight. The other seems five light years away from that part of the bracket.

One coach possesses a reputation of signing talented players but failing to develop them. The other skips the part about signing many talented players.

The first coach is Mark Gottfried, who resigned as Alabama's head basketball coach under pressure Monday. The other is Dennis Felton, still employed by Georgia.

It doesn't make much sense until you remember that Felton is still the Bulldogs' coach because Georgia made an improbable, wind-aided run in the SEC tournament (If the tornado never happened, would Georgia have beat Kentucky in front of a Big Blue crowd at the Georgia Dome?). It was a great story, saved Felton's job and supposedly provided the momentum Georgia basketball needed.

But the Bulldogs, losers of six straight games and 0-4 in the SEC, are awful again this season. Loyola-Chicago lost to Rockhurst and Cornell this year. I mention this only because Loyola-Chicago beat Georgia by 21 points.

Here's the point: As I've written many times before, if you don't believe your current coach can consistently win championships, if you believe a change will improve the program, you immediately make the move. You start the process before the other schools.

Based on what we were told last season, Georgia was probably going to fire Felton until the remarkable run through a very bizarre SEC tournament - a run that hardly anyone remembers now because Georgia is playing so poorly.

Recruiting momentum from winning the SEC tournament? Derrick Favors picked Georgia Tech. Momentum for the fans? Stegeman Coliseum is a depressing sight for home games.

And athletic director Damon Evans learned his lesson, as evidenced by the "I can't tell you what happens today or what's going to happen tomorrow" line to our own David Paschall last week.

Gottfried needed to go. Alabama athletic director Mal Moore made an intelligent decision by not hesitating and allowing a strong, fluke finish against a wretched, weak SEC West to alter his thinking.

The program, which Gottfried steered toward dizzying heights during his tenure, was deteriorating. The star player, Ronald Steele, quit. Some people will blame Steele's injury problems for Gottfried's struggles the last two seasons. But that's an excuse and not a reality.

First of all, Steele could have easily left after his sensational sophomore year. Then what's the excuse? Alabama boasted two NBA-caliber players on last year's team, Richard Hendrix and Alonzo Gee, and couldn't even win an SEC road game or make the National Invitation Tournament. This year, with Gee and a healthy Steele, Alabama looked unremarkable during the nonconference part of the schedule.

The SEC road losing streak is now 14 games, including an embarrassing loss at Auburn 10 days ago. Jeff Lebo owns Gottfried, winning four of the last five meetings. No other coach in the SEC is saying, "If I could only get past Lebo's boys ..."

As Georgia basketball continues its pace toward irrelevance, Moore is beginning the process of reversing Alabama's current course. He's the only athletic director of a major program researching basketball coaches, and that will benefit the Crimson Tide. Maybe he can even land former Georgia and Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, who currently is reviving the Minnesota program.

Outlandish? A lot of people said that about hiring Nick Saban.