Larry Reisbig, who has a 10-23 record in three seasons as football coach at Cal State Long Beach, resigned Thursday.
"This is something that had to be done," Reisbig said before telling the 49er players of his decision. He will coach the team in its final two games of the season against Cal State Fullerton Saturday and Utah State on Nov. 25.
Athletic Director Corey Johnson said he hopes a new coach will be hired by mid-December.
Reisbig and Johnson have had several recent meetings, but Reisbig said, "Nobody ever talked to me about being fired."
The 49ers are 3-7 overall and 1-4 in the Big West Conference. They have given up an average of 35.8 points a game, and their only victory over another Division I-A team was against winless New Mexico State.
"It's been a rough three years," said Reisbig, 4-7 in 1987 and 3-9 last season.
A former 49er assistant, Reisbig, 48, came to Long Beach from Pasadena City College on Dec. 24, 1986. He replaced Mike Sheppard, who left for the University of New Mexico during a time when Long Beach almost dropped football because of a financial crisis.
Football was saved by a $300,000 fund drive, but the uncertainty cost the 49ers their recruiting season.
In a letter to Johnson, Reisbig wrote: "Many of the obstacles were overcome. At the same time we have been trying to fight with our hands tied behind our backs in many ways."
Reisbig said Thursday, "I'd like to say more but I'm not going to, not for a while."
Money problems forced the 49ers to travel the last three seasons to play big-name teams such as Michigan, Oregon and UCLA, absorbing lopsided defeats in exchange for lucrative guarantees.
Scholarships were increased to 70, or 20 more than in 1987, and Reisbig said before this season, "We're competitive, we're going to scare a lot of people."
But when many of the better players were injured, the season fell apart quickly.
"The most devastating thing has been the injuries," Reisbig said. "We have 24 scholarship athletes who can't play. That will take the heart and soul out of any program."
Johnson remains committed to building a strong program. "We'd like to do a better job in recruiting high school players," he said, alluding to a roster with a predominance of community college transfers. "We always needed to fill holes."
In the 1980s, the 49ers are 50-54 and have had only one winning season in the last five years. The crowds at Veterans Stadium, which has stands on only one side and seats 12,500, have been the smallest among Division I-A schools. The average for three games this season is 3,000.