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April 1, 2009As part of UGASports.com's commitment to encourange and assist aspiring journalists in the coverage of college sports online, we present this feature to Bulldog fans. Thomas Massey is a senior at Wheeler High School in Marietta, Georgia. He completed this article as part of his Senior Project.
Athens, Ga. -- Like most of the 2008-09 season, Georgia's final game at Stegeman Coliseum didn't turn out the way the Bulldogs wanted it to end on Saturday.
After enduring a season in which head coach Dennis Felton was fired, and in which the Bulldogs lost their first nine games against Southeastern Conference opponents, they once again left the court on the losing side, falling 68-51 to South Carolina.
The 2008-09 season would end for Georgia, almost mercifully, five days later when it lost to Mississippi State 79-60 in the first round of the SEC tournament in Tampa, Fla.
Georgia finished the season with a 12-20 record, including a 3-13 mark against SEC foes, which was next-to-worst in the conference. Georgia went 3-9 under interim coach Pete Herrmann, who replaced Felton as the Bulldogs' coach on Jan. 29.
Senior guard Corey Butler said it was difficult for the Bulldogs to stay focused after Felton was fired at midseason.
"It's definitely been a rough season," Butler said. "We definitely didn't expect that. We knew that trouble was lurking, but we didn't expect it at that point. But it happened. Coach Herrmann stepped in, did an excellent job getting the guys together, playing together, and just playing more freely. You have to give credit to Coach Herrmann for stepping into an awkward or weird situation and doing the job that he did."
Felton, who led the Bulldogs to an improbable championship in the 2008 SEC Tournament in Atlanta, was fired the day after the Bulldogs were routed at Florida, 83-57.
"It was very tough," senior forward Terrence Woodbury said. "I'm sure it was tough for me and tough for everybody else on the team. But as I talked to Coach Felton later in the weeks, he just told me keep my head up. Try to keep the team together and lead with Coach Herrmann. Coach Herrmann has done a great job coming into a situation like this. And I'm sure he didn't want to lead without his head coach, who he had been with the past 17 years or however long they've been together."
Herrmann, 60, hadn't been a head coach since 1986-92, when he sat at the end of the bench at the United States Naval Academy, where he coached future NBA star David Robinson.
Herrmann had worked the last 11 seasons as an assistant under Felton, the first five at Western Kentucky and last six at Georgia.
When Felton was fired after compiling an 84-91 record, Herrmann was named charged with leading the Bulldogs the rest of the way.
"It's a very emotional roller coaster when you go through this," Herrmann said. "I was with Dennis Felton every day in practice and games for 11 years in a row, and to take over as the head coach was very difficult. I talk to Dennis a lot. We still talk all the time about how we're preparing and what we're going to do in regards to the next opponent."
The 2008-09 season did include a few highlights for the Bulldogs. Georgia upset Florida 88-86 at Stegeman Coliseum on Feb. 14.
The Bulldogs also won at Kentucky 90-85 on March 4. It was only Georgia's fourth victory in 32 meetings against the Wildcats at storied Rupp Arena.
Georgia athletics director Damon Evans was still searching for a new head coach as the NCAA Tournament moved to the Sweet 16.
The Bulldogs were eyeing some high-profile candidates, such as Oklahoma's Jeff Capel and Missouri's Mike Anderson.
Whoever gets the job will inherit a young roster for next season. Woodbury, the team's leading scorer with 14 points per game, and Butler are the team's only seniors. But sophomores Zac Swansey and Troy Brewer both announced they're transferring to different schools shortly after the season ended.
Regardless, the new coach can be encouraged that he's inheriting a team that played hard, even when it's future didn't look so bright this season.
"I think it's a tribute to our players that they hung in there, hung together," Herrmann said. "Especially with nine freshmen and sophomores, that they moved forward and continued to play very competitively."