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Smith gets the boot despite near-upset of Kansas State
Associated Press

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Larry Smith remained true to his word, choosing to be fired as Missouri's football coach rather than retire or resign.

Athletic director Mike Alden said Sunday that he gave Smith the ultimatum after a 28-24 home loss to Kansas State on Saturday finished a 3-8 season. It was Missouri's second straight losing season after two consecutive bowl appearances.

Smith, who had three years left on his contract, said after the game that he would not step down. He instead talked optimistically, saying he thought Missouri would have a "great team" next year and discussing recruiting priorities.

Alden met with Smith about 8 p.m. Saturday and informed him he planned to make a change.

"Coach Smith was very steadfast in saying, 'I'm not going to resign,"' Alden said Sunday. "And so I alerted him that we would be terminating his agreement."

In a statement released by the school, Smith said he was given no reasons for the dismissal.

"I am very proud of what our program has accomplished," Smith said. "It appears that what counts to this administration is only winning and losing."

Alden said he would move swiftly to find a new coach, hoping to fill the position in two to three weeks. None of the current assistant coaches are serious candidates for the job, although Alden said they are welcome to express an interest.

Speculation in Columbia has Florida State offensive coach Mark Richt, Texas Christian coach Dennis Franchione and South Florida coach Jim Leavitt at the top of Alden's list.

Head coaching or coordinator experience isn't necessarily required, Alden said, although any coach would be expected to leave his current job immediately - even if that means missing a bowl appearance.

"When a person is committed to the University of Missouri, they are committed to Missouri," Alden said. "Not to the other place until such time as they feel like coming here."

Smith had a 33-46-1 record in seven seasons at Missouri. His career record is 143-126-7 in 24 seasons, with previous stops at Tulane, Arizona and Southern California.

Alden listed four reasons why Smith was removed: a losing record, particularly the last two years (7-15); an uncompetitive showing during that period; deficiencies in the personal development of players; poor recruiting after the two bowl seasons.

Missouri lost all five games it played this year against Top 25 teams. It beat Oklahoma State and Baylor -- the Big 12's worst teams -- and Division I-AA Western Illinois. Smith was 1-27 against Top 25 teams while at Missouri.

"We believe that the University of Missouri's athletics program, football being one part of the program, should be and can be one of the top three or four programs in this conference," Alden said. "That's what we're looking to try and do."

In 1997, after 13 consecutive losing seasons at Missouri, Smith guided the Tigers to a 7-5 record and the Holiday Bowl, and was honored as Big 12 coach of the year by The Associated Press.

The next season, Missouri beat West Virginia in the Bowl, the school's first bowl victory since 1981, and finished 8-4. The consecutive bowl trips were the first for the school since 1980-81, and Smith became one of only four coaches to take four different teams to a bowl.

But the two stars of the bowl teams, quarterback Corby Jones and running back Devin West, graduated after the 1998 season and Smith was never able to find adequate replacements.

Missouri stumbled to 4-7 in 1999 after quarterback Kirk Farmer broke his leg in midseason. The Tigers lost six of their last seven, including ugly losses to Oklahoma (37-0), Texas A&M (51-14) and Kansas State (66-0), the latter the worst drubbing of Smith's career.

That prompted Smith to scrap the tailback and option-oriented offense and hire a new offensive coordinator, Bill Cubit, to run a passing attack.

But Farmer broke his collarbone against Nebraska, leaving the offense to redshirt freshman Darius Outlaw.

Last week, Smith noted that numerous improvements were made during his stay, including a new practice facility and upgrades at Faurot Field, from a grass field to a new pressbox. He also mentioned improved graduation rates.

"A lot of people think this program is failing," Smith said. "I don't think it is. I don't think we're doing all that bad."

Smith told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he would not seek another coaching job.

Missouri is obligated to pay Smith $540,000 - the total of his remaining three years at his annual base salary of $180,000 - in monthly payments. Smith also could decide to negotiate a lump-sum settlement for a substantially smaller total.

University chancellor Richard Wallace said he supported Alden's decision, but said it was personally and professionally painful.

"We will never have anyone at this institution, whether in academic or athletics, who will bring more integrity, dedication and passion for people to this university than Larry Smith."

Coaching changes

 Missouri AD Mike Alden announces the firing of head coach Larry Smith.
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 Athletic Director Mike Alden discussed several options with coach Larry Smith.
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