Originally created 02/21/99

Dooley disappointed but is sticking with Jirsa

ATHENS, Ga. -- While expressing disappointment at the state of the men's basketball program, Georgia athletic director Vince Dooley said Saturday he won't consider firing coach Ron Jirsa.

The Bulldogs have struggled since Jirsa, in his first head coaching job, replaced Tubby Smith, who went to Kentucky in 1997 after two 20-win seasons at Georgia.

Inheriting most of the same players who thrived for Smith, Jirsa hasn't come close to putting up the same results. The Bulldogs had a 45-19 mark under Smith, including two straight NCAA tournament appearances, but have dropped to 35-26 since Jirsa took over.

"He's got a tough job, a tough act to follow," Dooley said. "That's made it difficult for him."

The Bulldogs settled for a third-place finish in the National Invitation Tournament last season. They expected to show improvement with a senior-laden team that was led by sophomore Jumaine Jones, a top candidate for SEC player of the year.

Instead, Georgia has struggled to a 15-11 mark, including 6-8 in the Southeastern Conference after a 59-57 victory over LSU on Saturday. The Bulldogs have lost all six games against ranked opponents. Unless Georgia wins the league tournament, it seems destined for another NIT bid.

"I'm disappointed. He (Jirsa) is disappointed. The whole team is disappointed," Dooley said at halftime of Georgia's 59-57 victory over LSU, which ended a two-game losing streak. "They're trying to find themselves and finish strong."

Dooley offered no condition like the one he gave football coach Ray Goff in 1994, in which he said the team needed to make "significant improvement" the following season. The Bulldogs went 6-6 and Goff was fired.

Jirsa is in the second season of a five-year contract.

"Every year is critical. Every year is important," Dooley said. "I think everybody wants to see some progress. Everybody wants to see some improvement. Everybody wants to see some forward movement."

When Georgia struggled under Hugh Durham, Dooley refused to extend the coach's contract in 1993 or '94. Durham, who said the lack of confidence hurt his recruiting efforts, was dismissed in 1995.

Jirsa has come under increasing criticism from media and fans. During his radio call-in show Thursday, Dooley spent much of the hour defending Jirsa.

"That's part of coaching," Dooley said.

Jirsa, admitting that he is bothered at times by the criticism, said he appreciated Dooley's faith and is unconcerned about his contract status.

"Yes, we are disappointed in the season to this point," Jirsa said. "But the season's not over yet.

"I know which direction the program's going in. I've been an athlete and a coach, and I believe in myself and the people in our program, from our coaches and staff to our players."

Senior Ray Harrison, a three-year starter who was benched three weeks ago in favor of freshman D.A. Layne, said the players remain committed to the man in charge of the program.

"Coach Jirsa has been there for us, and we're going to be there for him," Harrison said. "He takes a lot of criticism that probably should be directed at us players."


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