Tough day at Ole Miss

After three days of deliberation between AD Pete Boone, Chancellor Robert Khayat and Coach David Cutcliffe, an agreement could not be reached and Cut was dismissed from the position he has held for six years.

After nearly three days of meetings, nothing was resolved between Pete Boone/Robert Khayat and David Cutcliffe.

As a result, Cutcliffe, who just completed his sixth year as the football coach at Ole Miss, was dismissed of his duties 11 months after leading the Rebels to a 10-3 season and being named SEC Coach of the Year.

Despite his overall record during his first five seasons, which was the best opening five campaigns for any coach in Rebel history, the powers that be no longer believed in Cutcliffe's vision for the future and his refusal to change much beyond the status quo left both parties with nowhere to go but in another direction.

An impasse was reached late this morning.

It seemed both sides of the discussion table regretted that things could not be worked out, but both were cordial and complimentary of the way things were handled.

Cutcliffe felt in his heart things were going in the right direction and only needed minor tweaking. Boone said he "respected" that. Boone and Khayat felt substantial changes in philosophy, motivation, personnel and public relations were needed. Cutclifffe said he had no problems with their feelings, even though both parties agreed to disagree.

In this afternoon's press conference, Boone and Khayat both indicated 2004's 4-7 record "had little to do with the decision." Boone indicated there were "trends" that had bothered him for "two or three years" that had continued this year. He specifically pointed out, as an example, the lack of productivity from the defensive side of the ball.

Some in the press questioned the statement about the record not having any bearing on the decision. Boone and Khayat were adamant it did not, but clearly their sites are set on winning.

"We expect every program at Ole Miss to be excellent, to be able to compete with anyone in the nation, whether it's Liberal Arts or football," said Khayat. "And personally I believe we should compete for SEC Championships every year."

When asked what kind of message the dismissal will send to potential coaches and what kind of commitment level to excellence is at Ole Miss, Khayat said "look at the building (IPF) we are in and tell me the commitment we have to excellence."

Cutcliffe gave an emotional farewell. He thanked many people, including his family, the Ole Miss fans, his staff and support personnel and even the media.

"We've had a wonderful experience here and have met many wonderful people. It would take me forever to thank everyone I need to," said Cutcliffe, his voice quivering. "I appreciate the opportunity Dr. Khayat gave me six years ago. I have a lot of great memories.

"This has been a tough day, but tough times don't last, tough people do. We will move forward. It's been good, awfully good. The bottom line is that Pete and I just could not come to an agreement. We just could not get on the same page. That's the best answer I have."

Cutcliffe had a tearful meeting with the team prior to the press conference.

"I told them to bear down academically. I told them to bear down as a team. I told them I would miss them and wished them the best. I hope they will do well. This is an important time for them and I believ ethey will respond like the winners they are," he said, his voicde cracking.

Cutcliffe said he was not shocked by the outcome. After two days of conversations, he didn't know where the meetings would lead.

"We didn't argue about anything. We had extensive talks and just had issues we couldn't work through, as I said earlier," Cut added. "I have no bittereness about anyone or anything."

He was asked if he got a fair shake. He said he would let someone else evaluate that and would focus on the positives.

"We had too many great things happen here for me to worry about that. I will focus on the positives and the great memories I have of my tenure at Ole Miss," he stated. "This is a sad, emotional day, but that's just part of it.

"I don't know what I will do now, but I have said a lot of prayers about it. I have always said you coach because you can't live without it. I believe it takes that kind of passion in this profession and I believe I have given that kind o passion to this job. I haven't gotten far enough along to know how I feel without coaching, but I'm sure it will hit me in a few days and I will be able to make some decisions about my future."

Was he surprised about being let go 11 months after being 10-3? He would not answer other than to say he was disappointed in the 4-7 record of this year.

"I hope the future holds great things for Ole Miss football. I think great things can be accomplished here. Look around at the fan support, the commitment to excellence in this facility. To put up a 4-7 season was disappointing, to say the least. Whether it was a firing offense, I will let others judge," he explained. "I hope the Ole Miss fans will consistently support the next coach and staff the way they supported us. That's what it will take."

Cutcliffe closed by again thanking everyone at Ole Miss for his opportunity and then talked a little about the changing landscape of college coaching before departing.

"Coaching is more demanding than it has been. This is my 23rd year in a row in the SEC and it has become increasingly demanding and difficult. It's just part of it, but it is still a wonderful job to do. It's tough, but I have no complaints," he closed. "I thank everyone for everything."

Class act, class man, class departure.

Khayat and Boone then entered the room and began their press conference. Khayat gave an opening statement.

"I would be less than honest if I did not tell you this is a difficult time for us. We wanted David Cutcliffe to be our football coach. We are grateful to him for what he brought to this program. He is a fine person, as we all know. We have had some wonderful years during his time here. The program is without reproach in terms of integrity," Khayat noted. "The concern and compassion he has for his players is a national model. He has a wonderful family. We are profoundly grateful to him for the job he did for us as our head coach. For all those reasons, we thank him and we treat this as a sad day that he is not going to be our coach anymore.

"We tried, the three of us, to reach an understanding about the future of football at Ole Miss. Everyone understands its importance to this school and to our culture. Everyone understands the level of commitment we have made here in terms of salaries and facilities. It is essential this football program be competitive, and not now-and-then competitive, but every-year competitive. We expect our program to be outstanding and nationally respected and moving forward. We will not accept mediocrity and we will always move forward to be better. There are different ideas on how to do that and in this particular case Coach Cutcliffe and Pete and I could simply not see where we were going to reach our goals. As difficult as that is, this is something that had to take place. We are respectful and grateful for everything he did, but the university transcends time and people and we are moving forward in another direction."

Boone also had a statement.

"I concur with everything the Chancellor said and want to add my own appreciation to David and his family. There was never a time when I was worried about the integrity of the program and that's something athletic directors appreciate," he began. "The challenge is to get better every day. It is my job to evaluate whether they are doing that. It is as important to me to understand how things are working as it is to know that they are working. I felt over the last few years that there were trends taking place in general decision-making and motivation that would prevent us from moving forward in the future.

"Wins are important - there is no question there, but this was not about wins and losses. Even the best coaches don't win every year. I would be superficial if I made a decision based on this year. I would not allow that to happen. I asked Coach Cutcliffe midway through this year about the strengths and weaknesses of the program and his analysis of it. I asked him to develop a plan for us to address after the season. ALso, how he would address any deficiencies. In the end, we could not agree on the solution to some of the problems we thought were there. He preferred a status quo with a greater challenge to coaches and players. I did not feel that was the solution for the long term.

"Coach Cutcliffe said he had to make decisions based upon his heart and how he truly felt. I respect that and it also tells you about the man. It also made me understand fully that it wasn't about me or about David Cutcliffe. It was about Ole Miss. I had to make a decision based on my heart too, and it's Red & Blue. Every decision I make is based on Ole Miss being better tomorrow than it was today. At the end of the day, he felt true to his and I felt true to mine. We shook hands and parted. I'm sorry it got to that point, but it was best for him, best for Ole Miss and best for all concerned. I also feel like I failed him. I did not communicate well enough with him and that's why we reached this point. I take that responsibility. I will look back at all the things I could have done better to make sure I learn from this too.

"We have begun the process of selecting a new head coach at Ole Miss. We're not asking for much. We would prefer someone with head coaching experience. We want an aggressive defense, a creative offense, a disciplined team, we want an energetic person who is a proven recruiter, a coach's coach and a player's coach. I don't believe that's asking too much - they are out there and we will find them. I am excited about the future of Ole Miss football and we will be relentless in getting better every day, every week and every year. We cannot step backwards. We have to correct mistakes and move forward. This is not a happy day due to the relationships we have developed and families are affected, but the day has come and we will aggressively pursue the best coach we can find to give our players the best chance to succeed."

Khayat and Boone would not discuss who potential candidates might be, but Boone stated he would like to have someone in place "by the weekend, but I don't know if that is realistic."

The press followed with about 30 questions, but none really revealed anything earth-shaking.

Boone said he did not ask for any specific changes in Cutcliffe's staff or any specific changes period, but he expected a plan that included change. He did not get one.

"I believe we should be in the upper echelon of the SEC and competing to get in the championship game every year," said Boone. "I did not see a plan for that, but I do believe Coach Cutcliffe believed the same thing. He asked me several times what I wanted him to change. I told him I would not say that. Those were his decisions, but the status quo was not the answer. I wanted him to be able to identify the problems and give me solutions, but that did not happen.

"I was looking at, for instance, the trend on defense to be in the lower part of the SEC. I wanted to know how that was going to change, and that didn't necessarily mean personnel, but I didn't get the answers I felt were needed beyond a greater challenge. I don't really want to be in the position of dictating to coaches what they have to do. It is up to the coaches to determine those things."

Neither Cutcliffe, Khayat nor Boone would discuss the financial aspects of Cutcliffe's buyout. All three said they were "leaving that up to the lawyers."

The search begins. . .

Early talk about a replacement is simply that - early talk. Many names have been thrown around by the public, and some of them will be contacted, but Boone would not comment.

From piecing tidbits together, coaches who may be contacted may include: Louisville Coach Bobby Petrino, Boise State Coach Dan Hawkins, former Notre Dame Coach Tyrone Willingham, former Florida Coach Ron Zook, Memphis Coach Tommy West and several top coordinators. (These are names that have been thrown around, but literally nothing official at this time.)

"We will be looking for the qualities I mentioned and for the right fit at Ole Miss. I have already contacted a couple of athletic directors and will contact more tomorrow," said Boone.

We'll keep you posted.

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