Arkansas fires coach John Pelphrey

Arkansas has fired coach John Pelphrey after four seasons with the Razorbacks, the school said Sunday.

Pelphrey was 69-59 with the Razorbacks, including an 18-13 record this season. Arkansas lost to Tennessee in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference tournament on Thursday, the third straight first-round exit for the program.

"I wanted to give John every chance possible, and I felt like four years was fair to John given the situation he took over and given the commitment that was made to him when he arrived here," athletic director Jeff Long said. "I had very high hopes that John could be successful, and I think John could be successful in another situation.

"But it wasn't happening here at Arkansas."

Arkansas finished fourth in the SEC West this season. Pelphrey has three years remaining on his contract and will be paid a negotiated buyout, a source close to the situation told ESPN.com.

Long said he made his decision after a meeting with Pelphrey on Sunday morning. Long said he weighed many options, including what he called the "overall student-athlete experience" and declining attendance in Bud Walton Arena.

Long also noted the importance of starting the coaching search as early as possible in order to keep the candidate pool wide open. He said he would move forward without the help of a formal committee or search firm, preferring to limit the search to himself and his internal staff.

Long didn't offer any prerequisites for the new coach. He also didn't set a timetable, though he said many coaching searches wrap up around the time of the Final Four.

"I want someone that can lead our young men on and off the court, have high standards, have high goals and have accountability in our program," Long said. "That's the kind of person I'm going to look for.

"I'm interested in winning."

Junior forward Michael Sanchez said the team met with Pelphrey at his house Sunday afternoon, calling the meeting "emotional."

"To see a coach I've grown with and built a relationship with was hard," Sanchez said.

Arkansas saw a steady decline in attendance in Pelphrey's four seasons. The Razorbacks averaged 17,148 in his first season, 16,043 in his second and 13,182 last year. This season, the school averaged 12,022 in 18 games in the 19,200-seat Walton Arena.

During its national championship season of 1993-94, Arkansas averaged 20,134 at home. This season, the school drew a season-high 14,174 for its game against Mississippi in February.

"Certainly, men's basketball and football are two revenue generators here," Long said. "I will tell you, it was not the overriding concern. If I believed that we had a coach would continue to build our program and get us to that level, I would not have arrived at that decision solely based on empty seats in Bud Walton Arena."

Pelphrey signed the No. 7 recruiting class in November according to ESPN.com's annual rankings.

"I think we'll definitely reach out, but ultimately the decision is going to be up to them whether they still want to come or not," junior point guard Jeff Peterson said. "I want them to come, [Sanchez] wants them to come, the rest of the team wants them to come because we know how special this place can be."

Pelphrey, a former Kentucky player and Florida assistant on coach Billy Donovan's staff, came to Arkansas from South Alabama.

Pelphrey was not the first choice when he was hired. Then-Creighton coach Dana Altman took the Arkansas job and held a news conference before going back to Creighton. Altman is now the head coach at Oregon.

A picture of Pelphrey with an underclassmen recruit also surfaced last week in apparent violation of NCAA rules regarding early contact. Long said the picture had no bearing on his decision, calling the possible violation "minor" and "secondary."

Arkansas is expected to go after Missouri coach Mike Anderson, a former assistant under Nolan Richardson when he won the national title in 1994.

If Anderson turns the job down, Marquette coach Buzz Williams, who has Arkansas ties, is expected to be high on Long's list. If they can't land Williams, the Hogs will look for another established head coach.

Arkansas is willing to pay a high dollar amount to compete with Kentucky and Florida in the SEC. Arkansas has long been considered the job with the second-most passionate basketball fan base in the SEC behind Kentucky.

ESPN.com's senior college basketball writer Andy Katz contributed to this report. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.