When Dennis Felton left Georgia in 2009, the coaching lifer needed some time away.
He had just spent six years trying to pull the cratered Bulldogs program out of the depths created by an academic fraud scandal under previous coach Jim Harrick, and the daily grind of coaching his team while being caught in a power struggle between the school president and athletic director had worn him down.
''I wanted to be away. I was burnt out after my experience with Georgia,'' Felton said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. ''I wanted a break. I felt like I needed a break. It was the first time in my life I had total flexibility to do whatever I wanted to do.''
Felton spent the next five years clearing his mind and refreshing himself in the NBA, and the trip through the league was exactly what he needed after such a difficult exit at Georgia. He spent time with Memphis, Phoenix and San Antonio to expand his basketball knowledge and returned to Tulsa as an assistant under Frank Haith with his batteries fully recharged and a new plan for getting back into the lead chair.
''Felton 2.0 is going to be so much wiser, so much more secure, so much more experience,'' Felton said. ''I have so many more tools in my toolkit than I had before.''
Felton has worked as the defensive coordinator for Haith at Tulsa, where the Golden Hurricane earned an NCAA Tournament berth in their second season on the job. And it didn't take long for him to garner more interest.
He was a finalist for the head job at Western Kentucky, the school that he headed from 1998-2003 before being hired away by Georgia. But the Hilltoppers chose Rick Stansbury earlier this week.
''I was interested in the job,'' Felton said. ''I have a great feel for how to be successful at Western Kentucky. That would have been a good opportunity, but not the only one out there.''
Felton raved about his work with Haith, who has empowered Felton with the kind of responsibility that has helped sharpen his philosophy on the style of play that he believes works best in the new era of college ball. Felton and Haith share similar beliefs about the best systems to employ, including an offense that relies heavily on NBA-style pick-and-rolls, an approach that Felton came to embrace while working in the NBA.
''In a lot of ways, it was almost diametrically opposed to the style I had coached before,'' Felton said. ''I had really come to develop this approach and how I wanted to do it. But until you actually do it yourself, it's theory. It's not real yet.''
Tulsa has allowed him to put those theories into practice, and it has only strengthened his resolve that the next chance he gets will be a success and Felton said he's ''having the most fun I've ever had.''
''I was fairly confident that when I was ready to come back, I would have opportunities to come back,'' Felton said. ''That's juxtaposed against the fact that there are so few of those opportunities out there. I also knew and still feel strongly about this, I'm not interested in just any opportunity, just to say I'm a head coach again. I'm interested in opportunities that I think would be a really good fit, where my family would like to live, the mission of the university, just a fit.''