EUGENE, Ore. -- Ernie Kent, the winningest coach in Oregon history, was dismissed Tuesday after 13 seasons with his alma mater.
"You may find a better basketball coach, but I don't think you'll find anybody that has the passion and love that I have for this university," said Kent, who had to pause for several moments to fight back his emotions.
Oregon went 16-16 overall and 7-11 in the Pac-10 this past season, finishing with a 90-74 quarterfinal loss to California in the conference tournament.
Kent, 55, leaves Oregon with a 235-173 overall record. But the Ducks have slipped in the past two seasons, going 24-39 and finishing 10th and ninth, respectively, in conference play.
Attendance has also dipped from an average of 7,922 in 2008-09 to 7,122 this past season.
Kent was the longest tenured Pac-10 coach. He took Oregon to the NCAA tournament five times, advancing twice to the round of eight.
He played at Oregon from 1973-77, part of the so-called Kamikaze Kids under coach Dick Harter.
Oregon athletic director Mike Bellotti said Oregon terminated Kent's contract effective June 30. He cited his record and declining attendance at McArthur Court.
"I think the accomplishments that Ernie has done speak for themselves," said Bellotti, who admitted it was a difficult decision. "He's given his life to the university as a student, a teacher and a coach."
The dismissal had been rumored for the past two weeks, after Eugene's KVAL-TV reported that Kent had been informed on Feb. 22 that he would not return as the Ducks' coach.
Kent told his players shortly after the regular-season finale.
Both Kent and Bellotti, who appeared separately at a news conference on Tuesday on the floor of Mac Court, confirmed the details of the report. Kent said he was given the option of leaving the team at that time.
"I thought it would be very hypocritical of me to walk out on my guys," Kent said.
The Ducks immediately begin the search for a successor. The Oregonian newspaper reported this past weekend that one possible candidate was P.J. Carlesimo, former coach of the Portland Trail Blazers.
Oregon's next coach will usher in a new era with a new $227 million arena that is scheduled to open for the start of the 2010-11 Pac-10 season.
Kent took over as head coach of Oregon when Jerry Green departed for Tennessee after the 1996-97 season. Prior to the Ducks, Kent coached at Saint Mary's in Moraga, Calif., taking the Gaels to the NCAA tournament his final season there.
Oregon president Richard Lariviere praised Kent's dedication to the academic success of his players.
"My colleagues and I admire the work of this good man for his ability to shape the lives of young people. It is an enviable record," Lariviere said in a statement. "The University of Oregon appreciates his accomplishments and wishes Coach Kent the best in the future."