LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Bob Toledo was fired by UCLA on Monday after two lopsided losses to finish the regular season.
Toledo coached UCLA to a school-record 20-game winning streak in 1997-98, but the Bruins have gone 24-24 since and have lost four straight to rival Southern California.
“I came to UCLA with class and dignity and I will leave with class and dignity,” Toledo said in a statement released by the school. “I have nothing but great things to say about UCLA.”
The 56-year-old Toledo guided UCLA to a 49-32 record in seven seasons, the third-most wins for a football coach in school history. Toledo was hired in January 1996, succeeding Terry Donahue, who retired after coaching the Bruins for 20 seasons and is now general manager of the San Francisco 49ers.
The Bruins are 7-5 this season, including a 52-21 loss to USC on Nov. 23 and a 48-27 loss to Washington State on Saturday.
Toledo will not coach UCLA in the Dec. 25 Las Vegas Bowl, where the Bruins will play New Mexico. Ed Kezirian, assistant director of academic services, will serve as interim head coach. He was a Bruins assistant from 1982-92.
Boosters reportedly pledged to pay the $1.3 million buyout of Toledo’s contract. He had a rollover six-year deal. The contract buyout consists of one year of the full package of $578,000 and five years at the base salary of $153,000, UCLA said.
“This was an extremely hard decision to make but one I felt was necessary for the future of the program,” said athletic director Dan Guerrero, who succeeded Peter Dalis in July. “During the last five months, I developed a very good relationship with Bob and learned to have respect for all that he has accomplished at UCLA. This made the decision even more difficult.
“That being said, I believe that in order to revitalize our program and move it forward, a change of leadership is required. The circumstances over the past four years, both on and off the field, created an environment that, in my opinion, hindered long-term success.
“In the final analysis, when I looked at all the factors on both sides of the ledger, I felt that for UCLA football to take the next step, we needed a fresh start.”
UCLA was picked to finish sixth in the Pac-10 in a preseason media poll. The team tied for fourth with a 4-4 record despite losing fifth-year senior quarterback Cory Paus to a broken right ankle in October.
At that point, the Bruins were 4-3 overall. But with freshmen Drew Olson and Matt Moore playing quarterback and another freshman, Tyler Ebell, leading a potent ground game, the Bruins beat Stanford, Washington and Arizona in their next three games.
Then came the blowout losses to No. 5 USC and No. 7 Washington State, prompting fans to leave the Rose Bowl early and infuriating hard-core UCLA supporters.
The Bruins had only 14 seniors on this year’s team.
Toledo is the first football coach fired by UCLA since Bill Barnes was let go after the 1964 season. Toledo was the Bruins’ offensive coordinator for in 1994-95 before succeeding Donahue. He held the same position at Oregon from 1983-88 and at Texas A&M from 1989-93.
UCLA was on the verge of playing in the national championship game in 1998, winning its first 10 games before losing at Miami 49-45. The Bruins then lost 38-31 to Washington in the Rose Bowl.
UCLA was 4-7 in 1999, and 6-6 in 2000, including a 21-20 loss to Wisconsin in the Sun Bowl.
The Bruins won their first six games in 2001 to rise to No. 4 in the rankings, but then lost four straight, capped by a 27-0 defeat against USC, before beating Arizona State to finish the season 7-4.
Off-the-field problems during Toledo’s tenure included a handicapped parking scandal in 1999, and star running back DeShaun Foster’s season-ending suspension in 2001 for driving a new car leased by actor-director Eric Laneuville.
In addition, Toledo learned two days before the loss to USC in 2001 that Paus had pleaded no contest to a charge of driving under the influence of alcohol and faced four days of jail time. It was his second alcohol-related offense.
Donahue’s 151 wins are by far the most in school history. William Spaulding won 72 from 1925-38.