Ole Miss fires Orgeron after claiming he'd return in '08

Updated: November 24, 2007, 8:00 PM ET
By Bruce Feldman | ESPN The Magazine

A few weeks after Ole Miss brass announced that head coach Ed Orgeron would be back in 2008, the third-year coach was fired Saturday.

The news comes a day after the Rebels lost to archrival Mississippi State 17-14, capping off a winless SEC season for the first time in over two decades. The Rebels dominated much of the game, but momentum swung after Orgeron opted to go for it on a fourth-and-1 at midfield in the fourth quarter leading 14-0. BenJarvus Green-Ellis was stopped and the Bulldogs staged a frantic rally.

[+] EnlargeEd Orgeron
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesEd Orgeron was fired after finishing 3-9 in Mississippi's first winless season in the Southeastern Conference since 1982.

In three seasons Orgeron's teams won 10 games and had several close losses against ranked teams, but they could never get a big win. His recruiting classes were always highly ranked but the Rebels struggled on both sides of the ball, ranking near the bottom of most statistical categories in the SEC.

"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, who had been Pete Carroll's right-hand man at USC, had continued to recruit well. He had hoped he could get to 2008, when Texas transfer Jevan Snead, a former blue-chipper, would become eligible. But the turn-the-corner win never came.

"In reviewing the criteria that I like to use in evaluating all of our head coaches, we felt progress had been made, and significant progress, but it was not enough to warrant moving forward to next year," Boone said.

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. Calls to his home and cell phone were not immediately returned, according to The Associated Press.

"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."

A week ago, after Ole Miss outgained but lost to top-ranked LSU 41-24, Orgeron and his staff hosted more high-profile recruits than he'd ever had on any weekend during his tenure at Ole Miss. He seemed confident that'd he'd be back for 2008, but one of his assistants pointed out that votes of confidence rarely mean anything.

"They just say those kinds of things so you keep recruiting," said the assistant.

Said Orgeron, "I know we're not out of the woods just yet."

He was right.

Boone and Chancellor Robert Khayat endorsed Orgeron last month. Khayat told the AP that Orgeron's job was safe and he believed the coach would eventually field a winner, even if it took five or six years.

Boone said the endorsements were made "with the anticipation that we would finish on a strong note. Coach O and I both thought it would happen, but it did not."

Boone met Saturday morning with Khayat, then told Orgeron of their decision.

Bruce Feldman is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine. Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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