ELLENSBURG, Wash. -- Blaine Bennett has been fired as the head football coach at Central Washington just days before the Wildcats begin fall camp.

The school announced the decision Friday. Longtime assistant John Picha has been appointed to be the Wildcats' interim head coach.

Athletic director Dennis Francois said the school chose to move in another direction and that a national search for a permanent head coach would start after the season.

Bennett was hired in 2008 after Beau Baldwin left to become head coach at Eastern Washington. Bennett was 41-16 in his five seasons as Central's coach. No reason was given by the school for Bennett's firing.

Picha joined the football staff as a graduate assistant in 1988 and played for the school in 1986 and '87.

"John's been a full-time assistant coach on both sides of the ball for the past 18 years, for five different Central head coaches. He's also been the recruiting coordinator and overseen team travel," Francois said. "John is experienced, student-centered, and embodies the high standards we expect of both our coaches and players. He was my first choice to lead our program and I'm pleased that he accepted."

"I'm honored to be asked to lead the program and I'm excited about the challenge. We've got a good group of returning players and we've been able to add some transfer students and freshman who will help," Picha said. "The GNAC [Great Northwest Athletic Conference] is a tough conference, but we're going to compete very well."

Central Washington Athletics contributed to this report.