Citing a need for "different leadership," the University of South Dakota fired head football coach Ed Meierkort on Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 22.
The decision took many in and around the program by surprise, considering Meierkort won 61 percent of his games and guided the Coyotes through the Division I transition.
Yet, as athletic director David Sayler said, it was time for a change.
"When I look to how a Division I program works, in the context of a university, I felt like it was important to get some new leadership to take this program forward," Sayler told the Press & Dakotan on Tuesday, short after the announcement.
Sayler said he informed Meierkort of the decision not to renew the coach's contract, which was set to be renewed in June 2012.
Meierkort did not comment on the news Tuesday night.
In eight seasons with the Coyotes, Meierkort put together a 54-35 record — yet just a 15-17 mark over the final three years.
Among his highlights in that time: A Division II conference co-title (2005), a D-II playoff berth (2006), an FBS win over Minnesota last year and a victory over the top-ranked FCS school (Eastern Washington) this season.
Still, his teams struggled on the road.
Since joining the D-I ranks in 2008, the Coyotes were just 10-23 in D-I road games since 2008 — 2-15 in road contests against FCS opponents.
In its final two games away from Vermillion this season, the Coyotes saw two large fourth-quarter leads get wasted. In both games, USD had a chance to clinch a share of the Great West Conference.
Yet, Sayler maintained that his decision was not "contingent on one or two games."
"Ed has done a good job in terms of winning games and putting us in the position we're in," he said. "Right now, it's a combination of different leadership and different discipline.
"We need to look at meeting more rigorous academic standards, and we want to win conference championships."
Next season, USD will join the Missouri Valley Football Conference – a league that will ensure the Coyotes resume annual games with South Dakota State and North Dakota State.
While the Coyotes will be playoff eligible next fall, Sayler said he "realizes how tough this is for the seniors" who played their careers in the D-I transition.
"It's tough to part with Ed, he's been a great ambassador," Sayler said. "I'd like to commend all the athletes, especially the seniors who came to school here with no hope for a playoff bid.
"The memories they've made will stick with them, and I'm forever indebted to them."
News of Meierkort's firing seemed to spark surprise, if reactions on Twitter and Facebook were any indication.
Junior running back Marcus Sims posted on his Twitter page, "Don't know how to feel right now."
Still, FCS victories or near-conference titles aside, Sayler said the decision was not simply based on football.
"It really came down to that this was the right decision for the program right now, the athletic department and the university," he said.
"It was something that kept eating at me."
A search for a new football coach will begin immediately, according to Sayler.