AP -- A dreadful final month on and off the field cost Mississippi's Ed Orgeron his job, even though his bosses had said his future was secure.
Orgeron was fired Saturday, a day after the Rebels lost 17-14 to rival Mississippi State to finish 3-9 and winless in the Southeastern Conference for the first time since 1982. Off the field, Ole Miss was embarrassed by the disciplining of 20 players who stole from hotels the Rebels were staying in on Friday nights.
"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 is the second SEC coach in the last two seasons to be fired after just three years, joining Mike Shula who was let go by Alabama last year.
"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."
Orgeron, who finished 10-25 at Ole Miss, was a promising choice when Chancellor Robert Khayat and Boone hired him to replace David Cutcliffe in 2004. Cutcliffe went 4-7 in his last season, his only losing year in six with the Rebels.
Orgeron came to Oxford from Southern California, where he was defensive line coach for two national championship teams and had built a reputation as one of the best recruiters in the country.
Boone said he did not feel the hiring was a mistake.
"He had a great resume, he had recommendations from top-caliber coaches, he had been in successful programs, he had been an integral part of those programs, he was recognized nationally as a great recruiter," Boone said. "Based on the information you have at the time, you make the call. Now I would not go back and try to second-guess that."
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, minus whatever he makes in his next job.
Khayat told the AP in October that Orgeron's job was safe and he believed the coach would eventually field a winner even if it took five or six years. Khayat said Saturday the firing was made more difficult by his endorsement.
"What makes it really tough is that he is so passionate and committed and works so hard," Khayat said. "I've never known anyone who works harder or was more emotionally invested than coach Orgeron and I personally have a lot of affection for him and a lot of respect for him and I regret that this situation did not work out."
Orgeron did not respond to messages left at his home and on his cell phone. In an interview The Associated Press last month, he talked about his rough start and what he felt was constant criticism from fans and local media.
Fans made fun of the 46-year-old Galliano, La., native for his Cajun accent and fired-up manner, and would not let his prior problems with alcohol and history of partying rest.
"It just wasn't the same relationship here," said Orgeron, a former Miami assistant. "I just didn't understand some of the things. When I first got here, my troubles at Miami, I'd dealt with those things. I'm eight years sober now, I have a new life. I'm a father. I've done some fantastic things in my personal life that never haunted me in Los Angeles."
This season was particularly difficult because Orgeron's recruiting efforts were only partially evident on a defense that finished near the bottom in most SEC statistical categories.
Meanwhile, at least six players were suspended for not going to class and other violations of team rules. Fans and local media also quibbled with the idea of suspending those players, but leaving those who stole about $780 worth of radios and pillows from two hotels on probation.
There also were questions about some of Orgeron's personnel choices after quarterback Brent Schaeffer, benched most of the season, stung LSU for 302 yards two weeks ago. Linebacker Tony Fein became the team's most effective linebacker after sitting for much of the first six games.
Most disappointing was Friday's loss to Mississippi State. The Bulldogs scored 17 points in the final eight minutes after Orgeron chose to go for it on fourth-and-1 at midfield with 10 minutes left. Orgeron took the blame for the loss.
"My endorsement several weeks ago was with anticipation that we would finish on a strong note," Boone said. "Coach O and I both thought we would. But that did not happen."
Boone met Saturday morning with Khayat, then told Orgeron of their decision.
Copyright 2007 Associated Press.