Turner was 35-37 at Illinois

Updated: November 22, 2004, 5:21 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Ron Turner was fired by Illinois on Monday after three straight losing seasons, a sharp turnaround from early success that included the team's first Big Ten football title in a decade.

Illinois went 3-8 this season and has just one conference victory the past two years. Half of the Illini's four wins overall the past two seasons were against Division I-AA opponents.

Turner had two seasons left on his contract, which pays him $1.1 million per year in salary and deferred compensation.

"I realize it's a bottom-line business and the last couple of years we didn't win enough football games," Turner said at a news conference. "I can leave this university knowing that I ran a program with great integrity."

Among those who might be considered to replace Turner: Chuck Long, Oklahoma's offensive coordinator who played and coached at Iowa; Tim Brewster, a Chargers assistant who played tight end for Illinois; and Brad Childress, the Eagles offensive coordinator who coached at Illinois for seven years.

Turner went 35-57 record with two bowl trips in eight seasons at Illinois. But since a Sugar Bowl appearance in January 2002, Illinois is just 9-25, and attendance has been falling.

Seven home games this season averaged 48,626 in the 69,249-seat Memorial Stadium.

Turner did enjoy the support of his players, several of whom have said they hoped he would return next season.

"We're talking about the guy who gave us all the opportunity to play football in the Big Ten, the guy who recruited us, the guy who came into our homes when we were in high school and it's the same way with the whole staff," junior defensive tackle Ryan Matha said last week.

After four seasons as offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears, Turner was hired as Illinois' head coach in December 1996, succeeding Lou Tepper.

His first team went 0-11. After a 3-8 season in 1998, the 1999 squad went 8-4 and defeated Virginia 63-21 in the Micronpc.com Bowl. The Illini slipped to 5-6 the following season, but in 2001 they went 10-2 before losing to LSU in the Sugar Bowl.

That team was Turner's bright spot. Led by quarterback Kurt Kittner, Illinois' all-time winningest quarterback and leader in touchdown passes, the team went 7-1 to win their first Big Ten title since sharing one in 1990.

Fourteen starters returned in 2002, including All-Big Ten players Tony Pashos and Eugene Wilson on defense and big-play receivers Walter Young and Brandon Lloyd on offense, but Illinois won only once in its first six games and wound up 5-7.

The late-season rally in 2002 fueled hope for 2003, but the Illini stumbled early with close losses to Missouri and UCLA and then went to pieces, losing 10 straight by an average margin of 22 points.

The Illini easily won their season opener this season, 52-14 over Florida A&M, but lost the following week to UCLA and barely squeaked by Western Michigan before losing their next seven games. The low point was a 45-0 loss to Minnesota on Oct. 23.

"Ron directed the program with high integrity, supported our academic mission and held up his coaches and staff to the highest standards," Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther said Monday. "However, all of that said, the past two seasons of subpar records have led me to make the decision to make a change."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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