ATHENS, Ga. - There's a new sheriff in Stegeman. A sleeping Dawg has been awakened.
My abiding impression of Dennis Felton, the previous sheriff of Stegeman, was watching the poor guy come out to do his postgame radio show only to find several hundred Tennessee fans hanging around and raising heck in an otherwise empty building.
Even in his own house, Stegeman Coliseum, Felton was upstaged by Bruce Pearl and the magic touch he brought to Tennessee basketball.
I have a very different first impression of Mark Fox.
As the new coach walked off the court Saturday after his Georgia Bulldogs dominated No. 8 Tennessee 78-63, he gratefully raised his right arm, pointing to the celebrating crowd, then bumped knuckles with one fan and clasped several happy hands extended his way.
The Tennessee party in Stegeman is over. For now, at least.
The Vols had come to Georgia and left victorious five consecutive years in an overall 10-game winning streak against the Bulldogs. Buzz Peterson got the ball rolling in his exit season.
Pearl turned it into an avalanche. Back in Pearl's first campaign, when he asked "witnesses'' to come on the road and help the Vols, they responded by the busload.
Tickets, after all, were easy to pick up in Stegeman, even by the busload.
The Vol faithful showed up again Saturday, helping Georgia get its first sellout in three years. Bernard King even came over from Atlanta.
But the only time I heard anyone belting out "Rocky Top" was before tipoff. After Georgia raced to a 14-4 lead there wasn't much to sing about.
This was Georgia's party.
Predictably, the crowd chanted "over-rated, over-rated," as Scotty Hopson stood at the free-throw stripe with two minutes to play, his team trailing by 17 points.
Then another chant arose: "Lane Kif-fin, Lane Kif-fin.''
"I want people to know,'' said Damon Evans, "that this is what a true basketball atmosphere feels like.''
Evans is Georgia's athletic director. He's the guy who pulled the plug on Felton and reached out to try to find his own version of Bruce Pearl.
The culture change Pearl has engineered at Tennessee is enough to encourage any SEC athletic director to ask why his school can't enjoy the same transformation.
"Tennessee has done great things with their basketball program,'' Evans said. "Florida has done great things with their basketball program.
"Those are schools that are historically known for football. We're one of those schools. I believe we can have both a great football program and a great basketball program.''
If Georgia does manage to create and sustain basketball success, it might not be a good development for Tennessee.
Georgia, as a state, and Atlanta, as a metropolitan area, are recruiting hotbeds. That goes for hoops as well as helmets.
If you're keeping up with Tennessee's recent recruiting trends, you're aware Kiffin wasn't the only Vol head coach who was making Georgia a priority.
Because it's so difficult to pry blue-chippers out of Memphis, Pearl has targeted metro Atlanta. Joining freshman Kenny Hall next season will be Trae Golden and Jordan McCrae. Kevin Ware is already a 2011 commitment.
Why Atlanta? One reason is because it hasn't been all that difficult for blue-chippers to say "no thanks" to an underachieving Georgia program.
One blue-chipper who said yes was Trey Thompkins. The 6-foot-10 sophomore was easily the best player on the floor Saturday.
Thompkins is likely a short-timer in Athens. He'll move on to the NBA. But if Fox can win big and change the culture at Georgia as Pearl did at UT, other blue-chippers will find it harder to say no.
"We got beat by a better team today,'' Pearl said.
As Pearl came courtside to do his postgame radio show this day, the orange folks had long left the building. He had an audience of one, his wife Brandy.
As to whether the Tennessee party in Stegeman is over or merely interrupted, time will tell.
But if I were Tennessee, I'd be wary of Fox and this young team that he is teaching how to win.
Mike Strange may be reached at email@example.com or 865-342-6276.