The Stump Mitchell era has come to a close.
Mitchell was fired as Southern’s football coach less than 24 hours after a sloppy, stunning 6-0 loss to Mississippi Valley State in the home opener.
SU Athletic Director William Broussard announced the decision at a news conference Friday afternoon, naming defensive coordinator Dawson Odums as the interim head coach and saying Mitchell would be reassigned to unspecified administrative duties at the university.
“I would like to personally thank coach Mitchell for his service and his commitment to Southern University athletics and wish him well in all of his future endeavors,” Broussard said. “I also urge our fans to continue to stand united with the staff and the student-athletes on the Jaguars football team.”
Broussard said an official coaching search would not begin until after the season.
Mitchell, who was in the third and final year of his $200,000 per-year contract, compiled a record of 6-18 in two-plus seasons, marred by a 2-9 inaugural campaign, a 4-7 mark last year and losses to New Mexico and the Delta Devils to begin this season.
But while his tenure did not produce many wins, he does leave the program in a stronger position than where he found it. Mitchell inherited a team that was facing dire consequences from the NCAA over Academic Progress Rate scores, and his efforts to guide the Jaguars clear of trouble have been roundly praised.
The most recent APR scores, which represented the first year under Mitchell, showed a 10-point jump to 909, and gains are expected on upcoming scores as well after Mitchell ushered in increased academic accountability.
But while Broussard said he considered “a number of factors” before recommending Mitchell’s dismissal to Chancellor James Llorens, the biggest ones came down to on-field failures.
He said that making the decision now, as opposed to the end of the season, would give the Jaguars a better chance to compete.
“We’re not forfeiting the 2012 season for future successes,” Broussard said. “We’re early in the 2012 season, we have a commitment to our student-athletes, and we want our — particularly our seniors, those who are ending their careers — to have the very best opportunity to compete.
“The thrust behind the decision was ensuring that we could do what was possible to ensure our competitive success this year as well as looking to the future of the program.”
Coming off Thursday’s loss, the news was clearly tough for the Jaguars to process. The players arrived at the A.W. Mumford Field House around 1 p.m. for regularly scheduled meetings and film study, during which Mitchell filled his usual role as head coach.
Players were careful to avoid reporters milling about in the lobby, with only one stopping to offer his thoughts.
“Make sure you put this in your newspaper: We want Stump Mitchell here,” running back Terence Clayton said.
SU’s five captains — Chris Browne, Charles Hawkins, Casey Narcisse, Levi Jackson and Virgil Williams — were among the last to leave, remaining in the facility until shortly after 4 p.m., when they somberly departed.
Moments later, the school announced its news conference.
After Broussard made the official announcement, Narcisse defended Mitchell on his Twitter page and posted the following message: “Still in deep pain...tired of crying!!!”
While Mitchell was not made available and did not return a call seeking comment, the decision likely did not come as a surprise.
He said multiple times this offseason that if the Jaguars didn’t put together a turnaround year, he would likely be out of a job, but the longtime NFL assistant wasn’t overly concerned with speculation about his future at Southwestern Athletic Conference Media Day in July.
“Nah, that doesn’t bother me,” Mitchell said. “I had a job before I got here, and I’m going to have a job after this season. Hopefully it’s going to be at Southern.”
Broussard declined to discuss Mitchell’s new role or financial details, but he did offer thoughts on his meeting with Mitchell.
“Coach Mitchell is a consummate professional. It was exactly what I would have expected in his reaction,” Broussard said. “He’s a man of high character and class, and he was exceptionally professional.”
Southern (0-2) will travel to face Jackson State next Saturday.