Memphis' West fired after 9 seasons

Updated: November 10, 2009, 4:29 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Memphis fired coach Tommy West on Monday, saying the school wants to go in a different direction after the season.

Athletic Director R.C. Johnson said at a news conference that he met with West Monday morning and told the coach of the university's decision. He also asked West to stay through the end of the season.

"It's not a good day at the office," West said right after his firing was announced.

West said the university needs to put more money in the football program or shut it down. West didn't hesitate to share his feelings about the program's outdated facilities. He said there was only one answer if fans didn't demand improvements or for the university to make necessary changes.

"I couldn't say [this] as a coach, but it's too painful," West said. "It's too painful for coaches, for players, for people, for fans. Put something in it or do away with it, one or the other."

West's firing comes after the Tigers started the season 2-7 and less than 48 hours after a 56-28 loss to instate rival Tennessee.

West said taking the team in a different direction should include a commitment to improvements that bring the program up to the basic standards of other schools the Tigers compete against.

He is 49-58 in his ninth season as head coach, 84-93 overall with stints at Chattanooga and Clemson. He led Memphis to five bowl games in the past six years, and he was one of only four coaches in school history with four winning seasons while coaching at least five seasons with the Tigers.

"History will continue to repeat itself, folks, if they don't do something about it," West said. "Whoever they hire, our fans need to demand one of two things. You have to demand you give him a equal stick to fight with within our conference. You've got to give him an equal playing field."

Johnson said the search for West's successor will start immediately. Sources told ESPN.com that Memphis is expected to attempt to hire a high-profile coach. Possible candidates include former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville; Division II North Alabama coach Terry Bowden, another former Auburn coach; Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn; and LSU assistant Larry Porter, the former Memphis running back.

Johnson said while Division I experience was not mandatory, recruiting at that level will be an important factor in the new coach. The athletic director said he already has "been inundated with candidates."

"The goal is very simple, to get the best available coach as quickly as possible," Johnson said. "We have not hired a coach. I don't have somebody in my hip pocket that I'm going to bring in [Tuesday] and announce. But I will tell you that there are people we are ready to consider."

West will finish his home tenure Saturday against UAB. The Tigers final two games of the season are on the road at Houston and Tulsa.

The firing comes on the heels of Saturday's woeful showing against the Volunteers, assuring Memphis (2-7, 1-4 Conference USA) of its second straight losing season and third in the last four years.

Besides a 35-20 win over UTEP on October 10, the only other Memphis victory this season was 41-14 over Tennessee-Martin of the Football Championship Subdivision.

West was named the Tigers defensive coordinator in 2000, and a year later became head coach, replacing Rip Scherer. He led Memphis to three consecutive winning seasons from 2003-05 and his fifth bowl was last year's St. Petersburg Bowl.

But in recent years his teams struggled early in the season and rallied down the stretch to become bowl eligible. This year, they never recovered from a poor start and have lost three straight by wide margins.

The worst may have been a 38-19 loss to East Carolina on Oct. 27. Not only did the Tigers perform poorly on the field, but a rainy night resulted in only a couple of thousand people in the stands at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in a nationally televised game.

That, followed by Tennessee's thumping of the Tigers Saturday, proved too much.

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN.com college football writers Mark Schlabach, Chris Low and Graham Watson was used in this story.