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SMU fires coach Bennett, will finish out season with team

DALLAS -- SMU coach Phil Bennett was fired Sunday, a day
after the Mustangs lost 29-23 at Tulsa and were eliminated from
bowl contention.

Bennett, who is 18-48 in six seasons, will finish out the
season, athletic director Steve Orsini said.

"I appreciate Phil's efforts here at SMU, but I felt it was
time for a change," Orsini said in a statement.

The Mustangs are 1-7 with four games remaining. They play at
Houston on Sunday.

Bennett is expected to address the media Tuesday. He did not
immediately return a phone message from The Associated Press on
Sunday.

Bennett was reportedly close to losing his job after the 2005
season, but won the last three to finish 5-6. He signed an
extension in January 2006 that put him under contract through the
2009 season.

But that was before Orsini came aboard as athletic director and
began to put his mark on the program. His first big move was to
hire former North Carolina basketball coach Matt Doherty.

Bennett, under Orsini's close watch in 2006, led the Mustangs to
a 6-6 record. It was the team's second non-losing season since the
NCAA shut down the program in 1987 for numerous violations,
including paying players.

In an interview with the AP last year, Bennett acknowledged that
his job was in jeopardy.

"You know and I know if you don't perform, it doesn't matter,"
Bennett said. "Steve has a vision for this place, and I know he
wants to win. That's my job."

Expectations were high entering this season, with Bennett
predicting the program's first bowl appearance since the
NCAA-mandated death penalty. But the team opened with a 49-9 loss
at home against Texas Tech. After beating North Texas the next
week, SMU lost six straight. Two of the losses were in overtime.

Orsini said Bennett worked hard but ultimately didn't win enough
games.

"But as I said on the day I was hired at SMU, we can be
successful on a national level," Orsini said. "With the support
of this tremendous university and our great facilities and location
in the heart of Dallas, there is no reason we cannot become a
top-25 football program."

Bennett took over at SMU in 2002 after three seasons as
defensive coordinator at Kansas State. He led the Mustangs to a 3-9
season that year, but went 0-12 in 2003.

Since then, SMU made modest strides, going 3-8 in 2004, 5-6 in
2005 and 6-6 in 2006.

Bennett's six seasons ties the longest tenure for an SMU coach
since the program shut down for two seasons in 1987 and 1988.