JACKSON, Miss. -- A dreadful final month on and off the field cost Mississippi's Ed Orgeron his job, even though his bosses had said his future was secure.
Orgeron was fired Saturday, a day after the Rebels lost 17-14 to rival Mississippi State to finish 3-9 and winless in the Southeastern Conference for the first time since 1982. Off the field, Ole Miss was embarrassed by the disciplining of 20 players who stole from hotels the Rebels were staying in on Friday nights.
"I told him that the chasm had grown too deep to go forward into next year," Ole Miss athletic director Pete Boone said Saturday. "He understood that, accepted it and was as strong a man as you can imagine Coach O being. It was a very gentlemanly conversation that we had."
Orgeron lasted only three seasons and the firing came as a surprise to the Rebels.
"This is shocking," Ole Miss cornerback Dustin Mouzon said. "I didn't see it coming. I didn't want this to happen. I have a lot of respect for coach O and the staff. I grew a lot under them. I am sad to see him go."
Orgeron, who finished 10-25 at Ole Miss, was a promising choice when Chancellor Robert Khayat and Boone hired him to replace David Cutcliffe in 2004. Cutcliffe went 4-7 in his last season, his only losing year in six with the Rebels.
Orgeron came to Oxford from Southern California, where he was defensive line coach for two national championship teams and had built a reputation as one of the best recruiters in the country.
|Ed Orgeron was 10-25 in three seasons as Ole Miss' coach. (AP)|
"He had a great résumé, he had recommendations from top-caliber coaches, he had been in successful programs, he had been an integral part of those programs, he was recognized nationally as a great recruiter," Boone said. "Based on the information you have at the time, you make the call. Now I would not go back and try to second-guess that."
Boone said he has a plan to replace Orgeron but was not ready to discuss details, including how quickly he'd like to hire a new coach. He said assistant coaches Hugh Freeze and John Thompson will run the program and will continue to recruit.
The school will pay Orgeron 75 percent of his $900,000 salary through 2009, minus whatever he makes in his next job.
Khayat told the Associated Press in October that Orgeron's job was safe and he believed the coach would eventually field a winner even if it took five or six years. Khayat said Saturday the firing was made more difficult by his endorsement.
"What makes it really tough is that he is so passionate and committed and works so hard," Khayat said. "I've never known anyone who works harder or was more emotionally invested than coach Orgeron and I personally have a lot of affection for him and a lot of respect for him and I regret that this situation did not work out."