Malone University announced Friday it has dropped its football program.

The move, estimated to save the university about $1 million annually, comes amid a campus-wide restructuring designed to eliminate a $2.5 million deficit over the next two years.

Coach Fred Thomas said he learned of the board of trustees’ decision — made Wednesday — at 5:45 a.m. Friday, with other coaches and players told in a team meeting at 6.

“I’ve got 75 kids looking for a home, and I’ve got coaches looking for jobs,” said Thomas, who coached the Pioneers for three seasons after one season as an assistant.

Malone President Dr. David King called eliminating the football program “by far the most difficult decision I’ve had to make” in his 25 years in higher education and seven at the university.

“We love our students and recognize that this will change elements of the student experience for our football players,” King said.

The university said it has taken several steps to help current and future student-athletes, starting with the timing of the announcement. Originally scheduled for Feb. 8, the Malone board’s meeting was pushed forward so that the trustees' vote would occur before national signing day, which is Feb. 6.

Malone also said it will honor the athletic scholarships of current football players who choose to stay at the university, and it will maintain the same level of financial aid offered to non-scholarship players. Both commitments will stay in place up to four years for each player.

“Malone is allowing me to honor all scholarships and to keep all of the kids financially stable,” said Charlie Grimes, director of athletics. “Our first commitment is to their graduation and academic success.”

Grimes and King said it was too soon to estimate how many players would opt to transfer to another university with a football program and how many would remain at Malone.

Staff members from the financial aid, student life and the center for student success offices attended Friday’s meeting to begin working with the players to help them with their decisions.

No other athletic programs were affected as part of Friday’s announcement. Teams will continue to participate in NCAA Division II as members of the Great Midwest Athletic Conference (G-MAC).

Malone launched its football program in 1993.

In addition to four years at Malone, Thomas’ career includes 16 seasons at Walsh University, time as the defensive coordinator at Youngstown State University, helping the Penguins to a national runner-up finish, and head coaching stints at Girard, Alliance and GlenOak high schools.

When asked what might be the next chapter for him, Thomas said, “I’ll think about that after everyone else is taken care of. I’m in a little different situation than most of these other guys.

“I did this mostly for fun and the love of coaching.”