Bowl-bound Sun Devils fire Koetter as coach

Updated: November 27, 2006, 1:08 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Arizona State fired football coach Dirk Koetter on Sunday after he led his team to a bowl the last three seasons but rarely beat the best in the Pac-10.

Rick Scuteri/US PresswireDirk Koetter paid the price for Arizona State's subpar season as he was fired as the Pac-10 team's head coach Sunday.

Athletic director Lisa Love made the announcement Sunday night following the team's annual awards banquet.

"He has put us on a wonderful stage," Love said. "He has done some wonderful work. But we're looking for a higher platform."

Koetter went 40-33 in six seasons at ASU. Love said the search for a successor would start immediately, but she provided few specifics about possible candidates.

Love said Koetter agreed to stay on and coach the team in a bowl game. "They deserve that," Love said

"It would be foolish not to finish off what we started," said Koetter, according to a story in the Arizona Republic. "I never lost the itch to coach, and I'm sure I'll coach again."

The Sun Devils completed a 7-5 regular season with a 28-14 victory over rival Arizona in Tucson on Saturday, clinching their third consecutive postseason berth.

But Love said losses to Pac-10 powers such as California and USC played a role in her decision.

"Where we struggled in certain big games this year became problematic, and therefore led me to making the decision that I have made," she said.

Love said she fired Koetter on Sunday morning by phone. Koetter broke the news to the team before the banquet.

"Everybody has regrets," he said at a news conference. "You learn things along the way."

Koetter said he respected Love's decision, but he showed a feisty side when asked if he was surprised to be fired.

"When you meet that new coach, just make sure the first thing you say to him in that awkward moment isn't, 'Just beat U of A. That's all you have to do to keep everybody happy,"' Koetter said. "We know that's not true."

Koetter went 4-2 against the Wildcats.

Players were emotional when Koetter broke the news to them.

"It's tragic, man," senior cornerback Keno Walter-White said. "We have a great coach in Coach Koetter. It's a real disappointment. It's tough being a Sun Devil right now."

Koetter's dismissal comes less than a year after Love gave him a contract extension through the 2009 season. The deal called for Koetter to be paid a total of $2.85 million from 2007-09.

It's the second time in seven years the school has fired a coach with a winning record after he earned a bowl berth. Koetter succeeded Bruce Snyder, who went 58-47 in nine seasons and was dismissed despite getting to the Aloha Bowl in 2000.

Koetter came to ASU from Boise State, where he went 26-10 from 1998-2000 and earned a reputation as an offensive wizard.

"How ironic is it that the day I'm getting fired at Arizona State, Boise State's going to the BCS?" Koetter said. "It's pretty crazy how that all works out."

Koetter went 4-7 in his first season at ASU, finishing ninth in the Pac-10. But he seemed to have turned the program around in 2002, posting an 8-4 record and earning a Holiday Bowl berth with a third-place conference finish.

But a pattern had begun. ASU won five games in 2003, nine in 2004 and seven in 2005. That inconsistency, coupled with Koetter's 2-19 record against ranked teams, led to mounting criticism from Sun Devils fans.

This season brought high expectations, with ASU ranked 24th in the AP preseason Top 25. But Koetter came under intense scrutiny at the end of fall camp when he anointed senior Sam Keller his starting quarterback, then changed his mind and gave the job to sophomore Rudy Carpenter less than two days later.

Keller soon transferred to Nebraska, where he is sitting out this season under NCAA rules.

The episode seemed to become a footnote as the Sun Devils won their first three games against Northern Arizona, Nevada and Colorado. But it loomed large when the offense struggled and the Sun Devils opened Pac-10 play with losses to California, Oregon and Southern California.

Koetter's offense is typically among the most productive in the nation. But Carpenter, who led the nation in passing efficiency a year ago, struggled behind an injury-riddled line and had little help from an inexperienced receiving corps.

The losses to Cal and USC left Koetter 0-12 against Pac-10 teams in California. He went 21-28 in the Pac-10.

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report

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