ATLANTA (AP) -Dennis Felton was ready when the inevitable questions came about his future as Georgia's coach.
Proclaiming himself proud of the job he's done under trying circumstances, Felton said Wednesday that he expects to remain on the job despite a last-place season.
Georgia (13-16) finished at the bottom of the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division with a 4-12 mark. The Bulldogs will try to extend their season Thursday night when they face Mississippi in the opening round of the SEC tournament.
``I'm proud of the job I and my staff have done,'' Felton said. ``I expect to be the Georgia coach for a long time, like I've always planned.''
Felton inherited a scandal-plagued program in 2003, taking over after Jim Harrick was forced into retirement over an embarrassing set of allegations that included illegal payments to a former player and a sham course taught by Harrick's son.
Under the circumstances, Felton was given plenty of leeway to rebuild the program. He quickly established himself as a no-nonsense coach who expected his players to meet a rigid set of standards both on the court and in the classroom.
The Bulldogs showed gradual improvement over his first four years and came into this season believing they were ready to contend in the SEC, as well as make a run at their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2002.
But Felton kicked starters Takais Brown and Mike Mercer off the team for violating team rules, costing the Bulldogs their top inside player and most athletic guard.
Compounding Georgia's depth problems, center Rashaad Singleton quit the team after losing his starting job, and freshmen Jeremy Jacob and Chris Barnes were lost to season-ending injuries.
Felton said his team's progress should be compared to schools such as Baylor and St. Bonaventure, which also endured major scandals. In fact, he seemed a bit perturbed that anyone was even questioning his job security.
``Why should the question be asked?'' he said. ``Look at schools that have dealt with the same set of circumstances and compare the records. We've significantly outperformed them all. And we've done it in a more competitive atmosphere in terms of our league and in terms of the level of competition.''
Georgia athletic director Damon Evans has declined to comment on Felton's future, saying he'll evaluate the program at the end of the season as he always does.
While Felton points to the Bulldogs twice making the National Invitation Tournament on his watch, they haven't finished higher than fifth in the six-team SEC East or come close to contending for an NCAA bid. Most troubling, attendance at Stegeman Coliseum has steadily declined, leaving the team to play before thousands of empty seats most nights.
``This year was a disappointing year,'' Felton conceded. ``But that disappointment is based on a good reason. ... People thought we could be one of the better teams in the country.''
The loss of so many top players ended any hopes Georgia had of contending in the SEC. In fact, unless the Bulldogs win two games in the conference tournament, this squad will wind up with the second-fewest victories of the Felton era.
The embattled coach wasn't backing down.
``Show me any team in the country that endured the loss of a number of significant players and still played at the level that was expected,'' Felton said. ``Even though we took a step backward and it's been a disappointing season, I'm extremely proud of the job we've been able to do.''

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