AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn coach Gene Chizik was fired Sunday after the Tigers' rapid fall from a national champion to a winless Southeastern Conference season.
The Tigers endured the worst slide within two years of winning a national championship of any team since the Associated Press poll started in 1936 and hadn't lost this many games since going 0-10 in 1950. The decision came 17 months after Auburn gave Chizik a contract worth some $3.5 million annually through 2015 with a hefty buyout.
"After careful consideration and a thorough evaluation of our football program, I have recommended that Coach Chizik not be retained," Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs said in a statement. "President (Jay) Gogue has accepted my recommendation. Earlier this morning, I informed Gene that he will not return as head coach."
The players were informed in a team meeting Sunday. Jacobs scheduled a news conference for later in the afternoon.
"I'm extremely disappointed with the way this season turned out and I apologize to the Auburn family and our team for what they have had to endure," Chizik said. "In my 27 years of coaching, I have gained an understanding of the high expectations in this profession. When expectations are not met, I understand changes must be made.
The Tigers went from 14-0 with a perfect SEC record with Cam Newton leading the offense in 2010 to 3-9 and 0-8, losing their final three league games by a combined 150-21. Auburn was blown out by Texas A&M (63-21) and Georgia (38-0) but the finale was even more painful for Tigers fans.
No. 2 Alabama cruised to a six-touchdown halftime lead en route to a 49-0 demolition Saturday that could easily have been much worse. It was still the second-most lopsided Iron Bowl in history, behind only the Tide's 55-0 win in 1948.
"While we experienced a tremendous low in 2012, I will always be proud of the incredible highs that we achieved, including three bowl victories, an SEC championship and a national championship," Chizik said.
He was 33-19 in four seasons and 15-17 in SEC games.
Auburn said the total buyout for Chizik and his assistant coaches is $11.09 million. Chizik's buyout will total $7.5 million and be paid in monthly installments for the next four years.
The deal calls for Chizik to make "reasonable" efforts to land a new job, with that salary deducted from the buyout.
Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said players gave Chizik a standing ovation after the team meeting and that the coach was tough on himself. Lutzenkirchen also understands the reality of life in the SEC.
"Not winning a conference game isn't going to cut it wherever you are in this league," he said.
Defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker said, "It's kind of crazy right now. I had a special bond with Coach Chizik."
Chizik had sandwiched two 8-5 seasons around the national title, but never approached the success of 2010, when Newton won the Heisman Trophy. The Tigers were 7-17 in SEC games outside of 2010 during his tenure.
His hiring was criticized by some fans after Chizik went 5-19 in two seasons at Iowa State and lost the last 10 games of his first head coaching job.
Jacobs was heckled at the airport after making the hire.
Chizik had been defensive coordinator on unbeaten teams at Auburn and Texas.
A search committee comprised of former Heisman Trophy winners Pat Sullivan and Bo Jackson and former Tigers fullback Mac Crawford will assist Jacobs, the school said.
A transition year might have been expected.
Chizik had to replace the offensive and defensive coordinators after last season. Chizik made an ill-fated switch from Gus Malzahn's no-huddle, spread offense to a pro-style system with the hiring of former Temple offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler.
The Tigers struggled in the transition, partly because of shaky quarterback play. Auburn finally turned to freshman Jonathan Wallace - the season's third starter - for the final four games.
Auburn ranked at or near the bottom of the SEC in every major statistical category offensively and defensively.
Chizik's tenure was marred by off-the-field problems, too, to the extent that Chizik had employees of a private firm run curfew checks on players this season.
Four members of the 2010 national championship team were arrested on robbery charges in March 2011. Antonio Goodwin was convicted in April and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Dakota Mosley, Michael McNeil and Shaun Kitchens are awaiting trial.
Two-time 1,000-yard rusher Mike Dyer transferred to Arkansas State with Malzahn after being indefinitely suspended before the bowl game.
Freshman quarterback Zeke Pike was arrested in June for public intoxication and later dismissed from the team. Starting center Reese Dismukes was suspended for the opener against Clemson following a public intoxication arrest.
Auburn is also the subject of an NCAA investigation that includes the recruitment of Memphis running back Jovon Robinson.
Memphis City Schools said in August that the NCAA had contacted the school district regarding allegations involving a former Wooddale High School athlete, identified by the Memphis Commercial Appeal as Robinson. A school guidance counselor resigned after admitting to creating the fake transcript.
The Birmingham News reported on Wednesday that NCAA investigators had interviewed at least one assistant coach and several players during the week leading up to the Iron Bowl.
Chizik's contract includes a clause that it wouldn't owe the buyout money if he is fired for cause, including findings of major rules violations or significant or repetitive violations" involving him or his program.
Chizik and Auburn have weathered past NCAA scrutiny. The governing body closed investigations into the recruitment of Newton and allegations from four former players that they were paid thousands of dollars during their college careers.