CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) – Mark Richt stepped down as Miami coach on Sunday, an announcement that caught the school off-guard and comes just days after the end of an underachieving season.

Richt, 58, said he was not forced out, and that the decision to retire was his.

“My love for The U is simply great,” Richt said in a statement. “My true desire is for our football program to return to greatness, and while terribly difficult, I feel that stepping down is in the best interests of the program.”

Richt said he informed Miami athletic director Blake James of his decision a few hours before the school sent out a statement shortly before 1 p.m. announcing the move. The Hurricanes scheduled a news conference for later Sunday to discuss the situation and where the program will go from here. reports that Ducks coach Mario Cristobal, who played at Miami from 1989-92 and coached there as recently as 2006 is someone Miami is looking at.

According to Manny Navarro of The Athletic, Miami may have eyes for Oregon’s coach.

“Mark Richt has decided to retire from coaching,” Navarro tweeted. “Lot of chatter about this yesterday and late into the night. Here is his full statement. I believe Mario Cristobal is Miami’s No. 1 target.”

Cristobal guided Oregon to an 8-4 record this season and a berth in Monday’s Redbox Bowl against Michigan State.

James told The Associated Press that he was stunned when he got the news Sunday morning.

“I wanted Mark to be our coach,” James said. “Last night, I thought he was our coach.”

Miami struggled to a 7-6 record this season, falling to Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl on Thursday night. The Hurricanes have lost nine of their last 16 games going back to a 10-0 start last season, were horrendous on offense at times in 2018 – totaling just 100 passing yards in their last two games – and saw several recruits who were committed decide to either sign elsewhere or re-open their college decisions.

Richt was 26-13 at Miami, and 171-64 in 18 seasons between Georgia and the Hurricanes.

“I want to express my sincere appreciation to the entire Hurricane family for welcoming me back home and for supporting the outstanding young men in our program,” Richt said in the statement. “I only wish that we could have achieved greater things in return.”

James said he will now aim to “go and get the best person for the job.” Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who likely would have been a strong candidate for the job – and may get approached by the Hurricanes now anyway – left Miami earlier this month to take over as coach at Temple. Several underclassmen also are considering leaving Miami early for the NFL draft.

Richt gave no indication that he was considering an early exit. He arrived at Miami in December 2015, spearheaded the building of an indoor practice facility that opened earlier this season and signed an extension in May that kept him under contract through 2023. He was making just over $4 million annually.

“The decision came after a great deal of thought, discussions with my family and prayer,” Richt said. “This was my decision.”


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KOIN 6 News contributed to this report