Georgia’s Claude Felton takes rightful place in state Hall of Fame

Longtime Georgia athletics spokesman Claude Felton, standing behind football coach Kirby Smart in October 2023 in Jacksonville, has retired after nearly 45 years at the university. He will be inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in Macon this weekend. (Jason Getz /



Longtime Georgia athletics spokesman Claude Felton, standing behind football coach Kirby Smart in October 2023 in Jacksonville, has retired after nearly 45 years at the university. He will be inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in Macon this weekend. (Jason Getz /

ATHENS — They’ve been trying to get Claude Felton into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame for years, but Felton kept blocking them.

The Georgia Bulldogs’ longtime sports information director – which falls woefully short of describing both his job or his impact – has been nominated by the state hall’s selection committee multiple times over a number of years. Trouble was, he kept declining.

He was still working, Felton would plead. It just wasn’t time.

“He was actually elected to the Hall of Fame the first time probably five or six years ago,” said Georgia’s Loran Smith, a member of the Hall’s Honors Court, which processes and approves annual nominations. “He wouldn’t let us honor him. Really and truly, we tried, a couple of times. He’d say, ‘please, just wait.’ Finally, I think it was October of last year, he said ‘OK.’”

Felton’s reluctant acceptance last fall hinted at the impending events that were to come. Felton finally stopped working, though not entirely (more on that later). His official retirement at age 75 after almost 45 years of service to University of Georgia was announced Jan. 30.

This weekend, Felton will finally accept the honor he has long deserved. The “Coat Ceremony,” as they like to call it, is Friday night at the Sports Hall of Fame’s museum and exhibit. The formal induction ceremony will be a black-tie affair Saturday evening at the Macon City Auditorium.

A man who has spent his entire career trying to remain behind the scenes will be in the spotlight on state’s grand stage.

“People are gonna be tired of hearing about me,” said Felton, whose retirement last month also was trumpeted throughout collegiate athletics.

Felton is one of eight individuals included in the Class of 2024. He goes in alongside Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Eric Berry, Cris Carpenter, Thomas Davis Sr., Paul Johnson, Brian McCann and Wendy White-Prausa. That he provided most of the information that the Hall of Fame will use in its enshrinement of former Bulldogs Carpenter and Davis underscores the service he has provided for the state university for five decades, including his time as a UGA student.

“I’m going to miss him,” said Jim McClendon, executive director of the state Hall of Fame. “Whenever we needed anything from Georgia, anything even remotely connected to Georgia, he’d always help us and get us whatever we needed within minutes. Money, materials, information, he’s always been there for us. He’s always been there for everybody.”

To that, you’ll hear a chorus “amens.”

Known as an encyclopedic historian and fierce taskmaster, Felton always was meticulously organized and rarely let any details escape his oversight. If he was asked for something, it was dutifully jotted down on one of the colorful sticky-notes that littered his desk and, remarkably, never went forgotten.

Over time, he became a trusted adviser to coaches and administrators. To Georgia coach and athletic director Vince Dooley, there probably was no one closer or more trusted. Accordingly, his titles changed from assistant athletic director to associate athletic director to what it was when he retired – senior associate executive athletic director.

“In my mind, you think of the iconic names from Georgia – coach Dooley, Dan Magill – Claude is up there with them,” current UGA Athletic Director Josh Brooks said. “He’s the fabric of Georgia, a part of the institution. He has dedicated his life to one university, one athletic department. Forty-something years at one place in today’s era of transfer portal and people moving all the time, it’s just not common. He’s one of the people you refer to by one name. You just have to say ‘Claude,’ and everybody knows who you’re talking about.”

Actually, Felton had a “cup of coffee” at Georgia Southern and the Savannah Morning News before that. A native of Savannah, Felton went back home during the summers to work as “copy boy” in the newsroom. He would work there briefly after graduating from UGA’s journalism school with an undergraduate degree and a master’s.

Felton next went to Georgia Southern, where he held a number of titles in the mid-1970s – including sports information director, associate director of institutional development and public relations director. Included in his time in Statesboro was a three-year stint as an assistant tennis coach.

Perhaps it was that tennis connection that so attracted Magill to Felton. Having worked together while Felton was a student and afterward, Magill recommended Felton to succeed him as sports information director. Dooley hired Felton in 1979.

“Coach Dooley was taking over the dual role of football coach and athletic director that summer,” Felton said earlier this week. “That spring, he hired me, Andy Landers, Jack Bauerle and Steve Greer all within a month of each other. Coach Dooley was putting a staff together.”

At the time, Magill was consumed increasingly with his growing roles of becoming a legend as a men’s tennis coach and growing the Bulldog Clubs of America as executive director of that group. So, he took Felton under his wing and showed him pretty much how to be everywhere all the time.

Felton arrived just in time, too. A year later, Georgia would win its second consensus national championship in football, and Felton would organize a Heisman Trophy campaign for Herschel Walker, which Walker finally won in 1982.

From then until now, Felton arrived at his south-campus office every morning at about 7, not returning home until the last sporting matter of the day was completed.

“Claude was at everything,” said Manuel Diaz, who was recruited to Georgia by Magill as a tennis player and announced his retirement Thursday after 36 years as tennis coach. “I can remember him being there to greet me on the court after every home match — win or lose. He was always so supportive, and I know all of us coaches will miss him being around.”

Divided by men and women, the Bulldogs field 21 sports, so making even a token appearance at them all made for some extremely long days. Unofficially, it’s believed that he missed only one football game in the entirety of his UGA career.

“I’ve heard a lot of national anthems,” Felton quipped.

Nevertheless, Felton found time to marry the former Cathy Turner of Athens, and they have three grown children. It probably comes as no surprise that two of them are in the administrative side of athletics. Robyn Felton is a chief operating officer of an event management and hospitality company in Birmingham, Alabama, and Patrick Felton works in event management at Mississippi State. Middle son Christopher Felton is a doctor.

It’s a wonder that Felton ever got to see his kids. Robyn did recall her father arriving home from the O’ahu Bowl in 2000 on Christmas Day just in time to open presents, “Hawaiian shirt on and pineapple in hand,” she joked.

Otherwise, though, Felton the father was ever-present.

“I don’t remember a single important moment that he missed – dance recitals, Little League games, high school tennis matches, awards ceremonies, holidays,” Robyn said.

“As an adult, I’m proud to think about how invested he was in his workplace, but that commitment was not to the detriment of his personal commitment to our family.”

Professionally, Felton’s greatest trait may be that he has represented and, at times, defended Georgia for decades without accumulating enemies. He navigated the Jan Kemp academic scandal in the mid-1980s, NCAA investigations in the 1990s and early 2000s and, most recently, a drunk-driving, double-fatality crash involving football players and employees in a university-leased vehicle. He managed to do it with a combination of directness and compassion that belies other in his vocation.

At his core, a journalist himself, Felton always has championed truth and objectivity.

“Early on – I had been there just less than a year I think – I mentioned to Claude that I thought we needed more positive publicity,” former football coach Mark Richt said. “He said, ‘Coach, if you win more games, you’ll get more positive press!’ He’s a true man of wisdom.”

Loyalty and accuracy are Felton’s greatest professional attributes. Informed by a reporter recently that they were seeking photos of Felton standing alongside each of the six head football coaches for whom he served, he corrected them to say the number actually was seven.

“You forgot one,” Felton said with a laugh. “Glen Mason. I was there for his press conference (in December 1995). Of course, he was the coach for less than a week.”

That could make for a tricky trivia question: How many head football coaches did Georgia have during Felton’s tenure. In addition to Dooley, Ray Goff, Jim Donnan, Richt and Kirby Smart, many forget that Bryan McClendon coached Georgia to a 24-17 victory over Penn State in the 2016 (Taxslayer) Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.

Dutifully, Felton saw to it that McClendon is included under head coaches in the Georgia football media guide. At 1-0, McClendon is the only one with a 1.000 winning percentage.

Felton’s greatest contribution may be the people that he has mentored during his tenure. Former associate SID Tix Hix worked at his side for 38½ years before retiring in 2023. Current sports communications specialists Christopher Lakos and Mike Mobley each have worked with Felton for more than 30 years, and Leland Barrow has assisted Felton with football for 18 years. Those who have worked for Felton either as a student assistant, intern or employee include Sugar Bowl CEO Jeff Hundley, Georgia Southern Athletic Director Jared Benko, Georgia state representative Houston Gaines, Miami Dolphins communications director Anne Noland and Mark Parkman, COO of BlueStar Studios and a longtime Olympic Games broadcasting executive.

“They all make a lot more money than they did when they worked in my office,” Felton deadpanned.

Of course, the business has changed profoundly during Felton’s career. It’s less of a publicity role now than it once was. It’s more of a logistical endeavor these days.

Georgia has hired two individuals to oversee Felton’s department in the past few years. The latest is Steven Drummond, who came from the Carolina Panthers in September to assume the role of executive associate AD for strategic communications. Ever deferential, Drummond joked once that he just tries to stay out of Felton’s way.

The future of Felton’s position is unclear.

“Claude’s not someone you look to replace with one person,” Brooks said. “We’ll look at how we can break down some of the assignments and reorg the department and see what a post-Claude department looks like. But there will still be opportunities for Claude.”

That’s right, Felton won’t be riding off in the sunset just yet. Though he plans to get in a little more fishing (he likes the kind you do on an ocean), Felton and his wife will remain in Athens, and he still will assist with football and some of the other duties he has developed over a five-decade career. One of those he’ll continue in March as the longtime moderator for NCAA Final Four press conferences. And nobody in the business has better relations with college football broadcasting executives and talent than Felton.

What’s changed, though, is waking up predawn and immediately driving to the Butts-Mehre athletics complex after breakfast.

“Most days I don’t have to set my alarm clock,” Felton said. “But your body clock gets so used to waking up at a certain time. It’s not like I can sleep in to 9 or 10 o’clock.”

Saturday’s induction is not Felton’s first, by the way. He was long ago installed in the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Hall of Fame, and he’s been in the Greater Savannah Athletic Hall of Fame since 2005. In 2008, Felton was presented by the Football Writers Association of America with the Ben McGrane Award, which essentially is an inclusion in that group’s Hall of Fame.

Based on the reaction to Felton’s recent retirement and induction this weekend, more career recognition certainly is to come.

“I nominated Claude because I thought he was a no-brainer,” said Bill Shanks, a Macon-based sports radio personality who annually hosts the jacket ceremony. “He’s the best, and it’s not even close. There’s no one in the state who comes close to being the authority he’s been in that business.”

Said Loran Smith: “Claude just wanted to do the best job he could do for Georgia. He never wanted any kind of praise or tribute. He never wanted his name on a marquee or an award to come his way. He could have won the Congressional Medal of Honor, and he wouldn’t tell anybody. Just the consummate professional who honored all the tenets of his position.”