Missouri Cans Football Coach

AP/SF Chronicle, Deanne Fitzmaurice
Larry Smith, who followed two bowl seasons with two losing seasons, was fired after seven years as the Missouri Tigers' football coach.

He was dismissed Saturday night by athletic director Mike Alden following a 28-24 home loss to Kansas State earlier that day, ending a 3-8 season.

The defeat was the latest embarrassing setback for Missouri, which this year lost to Clemson (62-9), Texas (47-12) and Kansas (38-17).

Smith, who had three years to go on his contract, had a 33-46-1 record at Missouri. His career record is 143-126-7 in 24 seasons, with previous stops at Tulane, Arizona and USC.

Missouri lost all five games it played this year against Top 25 teams. It beat Oklahoma State and Baylor - the Big 12's worst teams - and Division I-AA Western Illinois. Smith was 1-27 against Top 25 teams while at Missouri.

"We believe that the University of Missouri's athletics program, football being one part of the program, should be and can be one of the top three or four programs in this conference," Alden said Sunday. "That's what we're looking to try and do."

In a statement released by the school, Smith said he was given no reasons for the dismissal.

"I am very proud of what our program has accomplished these past seven years," Smith said. "It appears that what counts to this administration is only winning and losing."

Speaking Sunday at the football complex, Alden listed four reasons why Smith was removed: a losing record, particularly the last two years (7-15); an uncompetitive showing during that period; deficiencies in the personal development of players; and poor recruiting after the two bowl seasons.

Following Saturday's loss, Smith said he had no plans to resign. He talked optimistically, saying he thought Missouri would have a "great team" next year and discussing recruiting priorities.

In 1997, after 13 consecutive losing seasons at Missoui, Smith guided the Tigers to a 7-5 record and the Holiday Bowl, and was honored as Big 12 coach of the year by The Associated Press.

The next season, Missouri beat West Virginia in the Insight.com Bowl, finishing the year with an 8-4 record - the Tigers' first bowl win since the 1981 Tangerine Bowl. The consecutive bowl trips were the first since 1980-81.

Those wins made Smith one of only four coaches to take four different teams to a bowl.

But the two stars of the bowl teams, quarterback Corby Jones and running back Devin West, graduated after the 1998 season and Smith was never able to find adequate replacements.

Missouri stumbled to 4-7 in 1999 after quarterback Kirk Farmer broke his leg in midseason. The Tigers lost six of their last seven, including ugly losses to Oklahoma (37-0), Texas A&M (51-14) and Kansas State (66-0).

That prompted Smith to scrap the tailback- and option-oriented offense and hire a new offensive coordinator, Bill Cubit, to run a passing attack.

But Farmer broke his collarbone against Nebraska, leaving the offense to redshirt freshman Darius Outlaw.

Last week, Smith noted that numerous improvements made during his stay a new practice facility and upgrades at Faurot Field, from a grass field to a new pressbox.

"A lot of people think this program is failing," Smith said. "I don't think it is. I don't think we're doing all that bad."

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