UK Men's Basketball

SEC coaches lament the firings of their brethren

As if to underline the changing nature of college athletics, the schedule makers conveniently have Georgia playing at Alabama on Saturday.

"I know everybody is going to think of this as the interim game," Georgia's substitute coach Pete Herrmann said on Thursday. "And that's too bad."

It's also a growing reality.

Earlier in the day, Herrmann learned he would guide Georgia the rest of the season because the school fired Dennis Felton as coach. Felton became the second Southeastern Conference coach in the week — and third in less than a year — to be fired or resign under pressure during the season. Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried resigned on Monday. Assistant Philip Pearson became interim coach.

"Well, you know, at this point, you sort of get hardened to that fact," Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl said on an SEC teleconference on Thursday.

When LSU fired John Brady last season, Tennessee happened to be the Tigers' next opponent. Pearl noted how Brady had led LSU to the Final Four two years earlier.

Pearl echoed that thought while also noting how Gottfried led Alabama to its only NCAA Tournament region final in 2004.

"It puts coaches in a difficult position," Pearl said. "Should Mark Gottfried have left (Alabama) after getting to the Elite Eight? Take advantage of the success and move on. Then there would be a lot of criticism of him not being loyal."

LSU Coach Trent Johnson, who freely admits that player injuries played a part in Brady's firing, recalled the successes Brady, Gottfried and Felton have enjoyed.

"All of a sudden they became bad coaches?" he asked, rhetorically. "It's just disturbing. The business is what it is."

Basketball elder statesman C.M. Newton, who works as a consultant for the SEC, saw reasons for firing coaches during a season. Besides freeing up the coach to begin thinking about his personal future, it lets the athletics director start the search for the next coach.

"I couldn't as A.D. go out and look for another coach and act like I was supporting the guy that's there," Newton said.

The fired coach would have the chance to finish the season, if he so desired, Newton said.

Newton acknowledged a growing what-have-you-done-lately mentality. He attributed that trend, in part, to coaching salaries that exceed seven figures.

"Expectations are raised," he said. "If you're making a million dollars, you better be a million-dollar coach."

More than one SEC coach spoke of how the tanker-sized money amounts associated with college athletics changes its dynamics. Nurturing student-athletes becomes more and more a quaint notion. Gottfried's exemplary graduation rate (28 of a possible 29 players since 2000) made no difference.

"It is result-based dominated," Florida Coach Billy Donovan said.

Alabama Athletic Director Mal Moore said that a mid-season coaching change should not be viewed as a snap judgment.

"It was a couple of years now building," Moore said at a news conference earlier in the week. "Where we were, where we were going, lack of attendance and lack of direction of the team at this point."

Moore did not deny that guard Ronald Steele's mid-season departure might have played a part in the decision to change coaches.

"I would not identify that or any one thing," Moore said. "It was a number of things that have been weighing on the program for a couple of years now, the direction we were going."

As for Felton, he seemed to thwart Georgia's desire to change coaches last spring when he guided the Bulldogs on a stirring Cinderella run that culminated with the SEC Tournament championship.

Rebuilding this season, Georgia has an 0-5 SEC record.

"I do think it is in the best interest of our men's basketball program that we move in a new direction," Georgia Athletic Director Damon Evans said on Thursday. "And while this may be unusual timing, I'm convinced it is the right time."

Maybe long term. But Herrmann did not think the decision helped this season.

"It's not a good day for the Georgia program," he said. "We don't feel it's in the best interest of the team and players."

But, Georgia's interim coach added, "That's the prerogative of the administration in charge."

Fear of Meeks

Jodie Meeks' torching of other SEC teams apparently motivated Mississippi players to try harder. They didn't want to be embarrassed like, say, Tennessee players in Meeks' 54-point night.

"Oh, no question," Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said. "We all can attest to fear being a great motivator.

"We didn't have to bring them up to speed on how well he was playing. It was all over the country. ... Our guys certainly played with an edge, understanding if he gets on a roll, he can put on quite a performance."