Fighting Illini fire football coach Bill Cubit

Illinois fired football coach Bill Cubit on Saturday, with new athletic director Josh Whitman saying immediate stability was needed.

After coaching the team to a 5-7 record on an interim basis last season, Cubit was signed to a two-year contract on Nov. 29. He will receive the remaining balance of his payment -- approximately $985,000 -- for the upcoming season, the university said.

"I appreciate the leadership that Bill Cubit provided our football program during what has been, unquestionably, a very tumultuous time," Whitman said in a statement issued on his first day on the job as AD. "He accepted the challenge on an interim basis under incredibly difficult and unusual circumstances, and he has continued to work diligently for the betterment of our student-athletes. Through his efforts, he has kept the program moving forward.

"Bill is a good man and a good football coach. All of us in the Illini Nation owe him a debt of gratitude for his work leading our team these last months. At this juncture, however, I think it is most important that we position our program for long-term success by creating a more stable environment for the coaches, players, and prospective student-athletes."

Cubit told ESPN he was stunned by the news.

"Total shock. Recruiting was going good, we had five kids in today," he said. "The offseason program, the weight coach said it's the best he's ever seen. It's a shock, it really is. The bad thing is I had four [new assistants] come here, three guys just moved their families up here in the last three weeks."

Offensive coordinator Ryan Cubit, Bill's son, also was dismissed.

Cubit said his meeting with Whitman lasted five minutes, and that he talked to some of the players afterward.

"Some of them came up and I had a couple kids tearing up," he told ESPN. "A couple of guys in shock, which is normal. The kids were amazing. That's why I did it in the first place. They asked me to do it, and it was for the kids. That's why I did it under adverse conditions. I thought we had a plan in place, a great recruiting staff, which is what this place needs, great recruiters. Apparently the new AD thinks differently."

Several players took to Twitter to complain that they learned of Cubit's dismissal through social media.

Illinois was scheduled to start spring practice on March 11, but the release Saturday said it'd would be delayed until a new coach is hired. Whitman plans to name a new head coach "as soon as possible."

Scheduled to make $1.2 million over the next two seasons, Cubit took over as interim coach after Tim Beckman was fired on Aug. 28, 2015.

Beckman was fired after allegations surfaced that he put player safety at risk, and an external investigation into Beckman's actions found several instances of troubling behavior involving player injuries. Bill Cubit, who was Beckman's offensive coordinator and assistant head coach, escaped blame in the school's report.

Previous AD Mike Thomas was fired in November, and there's an ongoing lawsuit by seven former women's basketball players alleging a racially abusive environment.

Cubit has a career head coaching record of 90-72-1 with previous stints at at Widener and Western Michigan.

"I've still got a lot of fond memories," he told ESPN. "I met a lot of great people. It's been nonstop from 10:30 to now, we made a lot of friends in the community, really good people. I absolutely love the kids. I had numerous opportunities to leave and never did. I love the kids here. I'm not going to look at it as a negative experience. I always look at it as a positive piece. I know we could have finished it the right way."

Saturday was Whitman's first official day as Illinois AD after finishing up in the same role at Washington University in St. Louis.

ESPN Staff Writers Brian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg and The Associated Press contributed to this report.