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Updated Oct 10, 2011, 7:03 pm
The University of Arizona fired head football coach Mike Stoops on Monday, Athletic Director Greg Byrne announced.
Defensive coordinator Tim Kish will serve as the Wildcats' interim head coach for the rest of the regular season, Byrne said at an evening press conference.
Buying out the two years remaining on Stoops' contract will cost the UA about $1.4 million—about half of what he would have been paid if he were still coaching, Byrne said.
A press release from the university said Stoops was "relieved of his duties."
The Wildcats suffered their eighth consecutive league loss against Oregon State last week, 37-27. The Wildcats have lost 10 consecutive games against FBS opponents, winning their season opener against Northern Arizona and last beating an FBS team last year against UCLA on Oct. 30.
"Mike was first-class" when told he was being let go Monday afternoon, Byrne said. "I like Mike a lot, we get along well."
"He handled himself with class and dignity," Byrne said.
In a written statement released through his agent, Stoops said he is "very proud of the Wildcat football program and the many accomplishments we have enjoyed. Topping that list is our qualifying for consecutive bowl games the past three seasons for only the second time in school history."
""When I took this job, I was hoping to be the first coach to lead this program to a Rose Bowl. Although we fell short of that goal, we made significant progress, and our organization continues to strive for excellence," Stoops said.
Firing the 49-year-old Stoops was "absolutely necessary at this time," said UA President Eugene Sander, who joined Byrne at the hastily announced press conference.
"Decisions like this are never easy to make. There is always a great deal of heartache that goes along with these things," Sander said.
Byrne decided to fire the football coach within the past week, after evaluating the program since he came to the UA in 2010.
He talked it over with Sander on Sunday.
"It was in the last week that I decided it was time to go in a different direction," he said.
"I was concerned with the direction of the program and where we were going," he said.
Stoops was 1-5 so far this season.
"The last 11 games have been a rough road," Byrne said.
"If you're going to keep score, you might as well try to win," he said. "That's a factor as a coach."
Stoops' record in eight seasons at the UA was 41-50, with a 27-38 mark in league games. He took over the team in November 2004, after the Wildcats had fallen to a program-low 2-10 in 2003.
Despite the team's recent woes, Stoops helmed the Wildcats to three straight bowl victories (2008-2010), matching a school record for the most consecutive postseason appearances.
In 2009, the Wildcats returned to the national rankings and remained in the polls for much of the 2010 season after a 7-1 start. Arizona peaked at No. 9 in the Associated Press poll following a 34-27 victory over then-No. 9 Iowa on Sept. 18, 2010. The victory over the ranked Hawkeyes was the ninth such win over a nationally ranked team by one of Stoops' teams. He defeated a ranked team in each of his first seven years at Arizona, and went 9-24 overall against ranked foes.
Byrne called Stoops on Monday and told him to return to Tucson from a recruiting trip, the athletic director said. Stoops got word that he was out in the late afternoon.
The team was told shortly before the 6 p.m. press conference at the McKale Center, Byrne said.
"They did a lot of listening," he said.
"After today, I won't speak any more about our search until we have a new head coach," Byrne said.
Byrne declined to comment on any possible replacements for Stoops.
Although he expects to conclude the search after the regular season is over, Byrne didn't rule out picking a replacement before then.
A small search committee, consisting of his top deputies—Kathleen "Rocky" Larose, John Perrin and James Francis—will select a new head coach, he said. An outside search firm has not been hired.
The Pac-12's new media contract will give the UA room to maneuver when negotiating with a new coach, he said.
He wouldn't speak about a salary range. "We thinking about paying at least $25,000," he joked.
"There's a lot of information we're going to have that the general public just won't have access to," Byrne said of the selection process, cautioning against rumors.
"Please be patient and cautious not to get caught up in unofficial news and/or speculation from media, message boards, or other reports from people claiming to have heard this or that rumor," Byrne wrote in an email to Wildcat boosters.
The Wildcats have this week off, and will return to the field at home on Thursday, Oct. 20 against UCLA. Six games remain in the season.
Interim coach Kish was chosen for his experience and personality, Byrne said.
"I think he'll create a culture of calmness, which is probably a good thing for us," said the athletic director.
"Today is tough day for the program," said Kish, 57, the defensive coordinator throughout Stoops' tenure in Tucson. "It's an important moment, for sure. I appreciate Greg's faith in me to provide leadership to our young men during this difficult time."
"I've been with Coach Stoops for each of his eight years here and know that we have a strong foundation for not only the future but for our immediate tasks. I know this coaching staff will work hard and support our players as we compete for the remainder of the season. We're here to help these players succeed," Kish said in a press release.
Byrne encouraged fans to back the Wildcats for the rest of the season.
"We have nearly two dozen seniors on our football team and we want them to finish their Arizona career by playing in a bowl game," he wrote to boosters. "We need you to continue to show the seniors and the entire team your support. I look forward to seeing you next Thursday against UCLA."