COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- The Southeast Missouri State football team prepared to board a bus Friday morning when the news came.
"It was really surprising," senior defensive end Justin Komondoreas said following Saturday's 31-24 loss at Tennessee Tech in the Redhawks' season finale.
Southeast players said they had no idea that head coach Tim Billings would resign -- sources said he did not have the option to return next year -- as his sixth season with the Redhawks was about to end.
Billings informed his players of his resignation as the squad was getting ready to leave for Saturday's contest.
"We had no idea it was coming," junior fullback/linebacker Corey Andrade said.
Said senior quarterback Mike Haley: "It was so sudden. A lot has happened the last 24 hours."
The Redhawks said they felt bad for Billings and his assistant coaches, the majority of whom will be forced to look for new jobs.
"I feel bad for them, but I believe in every single one of them," Haley said.
Said junior All-American punter David Simonhoff: "Coach Billings has done a lot for me. He's a great person and a great guy."
The Redhawks acknowledged that, in the bottom-line business of college coaching, they simply did not post enough victories to keep Billings at Southeast. The Redhawks went 2-9 this year after a 3-8 season last year. Billings' six-year record was 25-43.
"If we had won more, this wouldn't have happened," Andrade said. "If we'd have had a winning season, he'd still be around."
Added Komondoreas: "I definitely think it was a make or break year for him. We just came up short too many times."
Southeast was close in its last five games, winning two of them and losing the other three by a total of 11 points, including two defeats in the final seconds.
"It was a rough season, but we never gave up and I love all these guys," Haley said. "We could have won the last five games."
Although a handful of the Redhawks' top players were seniors, the majority of their starters and key reserves were underclassmen.
"Next year we're going to be really good," Simonhoff said.
Often times when there is a coaching change, numerous players elect to leave a program. It remains to be seen how many of the Redhawks players will depart.
"It's too early to tell," Andrade said.
Haley became just the seventh Southeast player to throw for at least 2,000 yards in one season Saturday as he completed 27 of 47 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.
Haley finished the year with 2,248 passing yards, the fifth-best single-season performance in school history.
Senior wide receiver T.J. Milcic led the Redhawks with six catches for 114 yards and a touchdown.
Freshman tailback Tim Holloman completed his strong rookie season with 59 yards on 11 carries.
Defensively, sophomore linebacker Adam Casper continued to come on as he had a game-high 11 tackles, including three for loss. Senior safety Mike Miller and junior linebacker Tunde Agboke both had nine tackles.
Junior safety-turned-cornerback D'Eldrick Taylor recovered two fumbles, including one he forced on a highlight-reel play. Junior defensive end Kyle Hunt had an interception on a tipped screen pass.
Simonhoff averaged 44 yards on seven punts.