"He felt announcing a new contract during the season would be a distraction to the team and wanted to keep the focus on football. We respected that statement and mutually agreed to wait until the end of the regular season to discuss a new contract," Stewart said. "This past week we again extended a term sheet that offered him a contract for him to become the highest paid coach in our conference. We were proactive and thorough in our efforts to retain him."
Hilltoppers defensive tackle Jamarcus Allen said players were preparing to go home from practice when called a team meeting to reveal his plans.
"He came in and told us he got the job at South Florida and that he had to do what was best for him and his family. We completely understand that. He told us to continue to make history and be one of those 35 teams that win a bowl game," Allen said.
"I was shocked and, I really hurt for the young guys because it's probably hard for them to transition," Allen added. "I just know that us group of seniors has been through so much and we know how to handle it. I just know we're going to put our arms around these younger guys and help them get through it."
AP freelancer Bradley Stephens in Bowling Green, Ky., contributed to this report.
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