The League: Firing squad


Published: Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 8:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 8:35 p.m.

Five years ago, Mark Gottfried coached Alabama to its first and only Elite Eight appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

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Georgia coach Dennis Felton was fired Thursday after a slow start to the season.

The Associated Press

A year ago, Dennis Felton led a young Georgia team to the SEC Tournament title.

Now, both are gone.

It happened in less than a week. Gottfried resigned under pressure Monday. Felton was fired Thursday in the aftermath of the Bulldogs’ seventh consecutive loss, at Florida on Wednesday night.

“I understand, but it doesn’t make it any easier,” Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie said Thursday. “I feel badly for Mark and Dennis. I know both those guys personally. I feel bad for them and their families and their players.

“Those guys are really good coaches and they’ve had great success. They’re really good human beings and have been nothing but class for the Southeastern Conference.”

Gottfried and Felton are the latest to be swept away in this growing trend of struggling college coaches being fired at mid-season. In the SEC, they join John Brady, who was fired by LSU late last season, less than two years after leading the Tigers to the Final Four.

“It’s disturbing,” new LSU coach Trent Johnson said. “All three of those guys had won at a high level at various places. All of a sudden they became bad coaches? It’s disturbing. This business is what it is. You sort of worry about the student-athletes and how they adjust in situations like that.”

Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said it sends a bad message when coaches are fired during the season.

“It puts coaches in difficult positions,” Pearl said. “Should Mark Gottfried have left after leading Alabama to the Elite Eight a few years ago? Should he have taken advantage of his success to move on? Then there would have been a lot of criticism for him not being loyal (to Alabama). He stays, and a few years later he’s gone.

“When coaches are dismissed at midseason, it sends athletes the wrong message. It says all you have to do is go down the hall and complain (to the athletic director) to get your coach fired.”

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