Rob Ash enjoyed significant success as Montana State's coach, but lacking it against rival Montana and in recent Novembers were defining points as well.
Ash paid the price Monday when he was fired after nine seasons of leading the Big Sky power.
Although the popular 64-year-old set a school record for wins in going 70-38, this year's 5-6 finish marked the Bobcats' first losing season since they posted the same record in 2001. They were 3-5 in conference games, tying for eighth place.
"We're not going to win the championship every year, but we should be in the mix every year," athletic director Peter Fields said. "With the resources that we put into it, we should."
Montana State's rich football tradition includes winning the 1984 FCS (then NCAA Division I-AA) national championship. Under Ash, the highlights included an outright Big Sky title in 2011 (after Montana vacated two wins) and shared titles in 2010 and 2012.
But Ash went 2-7 against Montana, including a 54-35 defeat in Bozeman on Saturday. That made the Bobcats 4-8 in November the past three seasons, including a home playoff loss to South Dakota State last year.
"This season was hard for everybody," Fields said. "When you watch the players leave the field after a loss, you see the dejection in their faces."
Before Ash arrived at Montana State, which tasked him with solving the Bobcats' academic and off-the-field problems, he was the head coach at Juniata (1980-88) and Drake (1989-2006). He has a 246-137-5 overall record.
Fields said the school will conduct a national search for a coach, with 10 to 14 days being the ideal timeline.