Cavan will coach the Mustangs (3-6 overall, 3-4 Western Athletic Conference) for their final two games, Saturday against Rice and Dec. 1 at North Carolina.
"The players mean a whole lot to me," Cavan said. "I've had an opportunity to work with some great ones here at SMU. I'll miss the camaraderie with the coaches and players more than anything. That is the hardest part (of not being retained)."
Cavan, who has a 21-33 record at SMU, came to the school in 1997 after kick-starting moribund programs at Division II Valdosta State and I-AA East Tennessee State.
In 1996, Cavan led East Tennessee State to a 10-3 record--matching the most wins in a single season in school history--and the second round of the NCAA I-AA Playoffs. It marked the first playoff appearance in ETSU Football history. For his efforts, Cavan was runner-up for I-AA National Coach of The Year honors and was Southern Conference Coach of The Year.
He lived up to his reputation as a builder of downtrodden programs at SMU when his inaugural Mustang team compiled a 6-5 record, SMU's first winning season since the NCAA leveled the death penalty against the school in 1988 for numerous rules violations. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram honored Cavan as its 1997 WAC Coach of the Year.
But the Mustangs couldn't maintain the momentum under Cavan's leadership. SMU went 5-7 the following year, then 4-6 and 3-9 in 2000.
SMU's only victories this season are against San Jose State, Texas-El Paso and Tulsa, all among the bottom five teams in the WAC. Nevada, also in that group, beat the Mustangs.
Last year, SMU moved into $57 million Ford Stadium, an on-campus facility expected to help draw more recruits and more fans. The Mustangs beat Kansas in a sold-out season opener, but by the end of the year, they weren't coming close to filling the 32,000-seat stadium. SMU has struggled to sell tickets again this season, and the Mustangs losing record has been a contributing factor in the poor attendance
SMU Athletic Director Jim Copeland acknowledged that he expected Cavan to produce a winning season this year. Once it was apparent that wasn't going to happen, he started thinking about making a head coaching change.
"The marked improvement I expected this year has not happened, and I feel it is the right time to make a change in the leadership of our football program," said Copeland, who hopes to hire a replacement by mid-December.
"I appreciate Mike's efforts while here at SMU," Copeland added. "Coach Cavan has represented the university with class, led us to some great wins and increased the emphasis on the academic success of his athletes. I wish him the best in all his future endeavors."
Cavan has a career record of 88-82-2 in 16 seasons as a head coach. He played for and served as an assistant coach to the legendary Vince Dooley at Georgia. Cavan was a full-time assistant coach at Georgia from 1973-85. He also served two years (1973-74) as a graduate assistant for the Bulldogs. He played quarterback at Georgia from 1968-70.
Georgia won the national title in 1980, captured four Southeastern Conference championships and played in eleven bowl games while Cavan was an assistant. One of his marquee accomplishments as an assistant coach was recruiting all-world running back and 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker to Georgia. As a player, Cavan helped lead the Bulldogs to the National Championship and the Southeastern Conference title in 1968.
Cavan amassed over 3,400 yards in total offense as the Bulldogs' starting signal-caller and still ranks among the Georgia leaders in several offensive statistical categories. Cavan was named the SEC Rookie of the Year in 1968.
Tim Gardner can be reached at tim@DawgPost.com.