Embree told The Associated Press he was heading into a meeting with his players Sunday night and didn't want to comment on his firing other than to confirm he'd been let go by athletic director Mike Bohn earlier in the day.
Embree, who had three years left on his contract, said he would talk at a news conference Monday.
Even coming off the worst season in the program's 123-year history, Embree's quick hook took his players by surprise.
"It (stinks)," quarterback Jordan Webb said after Embree met with the players at the football facilities Sunday night. "We all really liked Coach Embree a lot. And he loved us, also. Sad to see him go. We all respect him the utmost. He's a great man."
Bohn declined comment, but in a joint statement from school President Bruce Benson, Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano, and him, Bohn said: "We firmly believe a change in the leadership in our football program is in the best interests of the University of Colorado, particularly given our goal to compete at the highest levels of the Pac-12 Conference.
It was a difficult decision, given Jon Embree's history with CU, and one we arrived at after considerable deliberation. We appreciate his passion and dedication and wish him the best."
Bohn will form a search committee to find the next head coach.
Embree's firing after just two years points to an administration that wants a quick turnaround.
"We strive for excellence in all we do, and the university leadership is committed to doing everything we can to ensure success for our football program, for which we are accountable," the joint statement said. "We thank you, the entire university community, for your support during this challenging season and call upon you to join us in our efforts for a successful transition and future for the CU football program."
Embree had three years remaining on the five-year contract he signed on Dec. 6, 2010, when he replaced Dan Hawkins, whose poor recruiting classes and a string of losing seasons led to his dismissal.
Embree went 4-21 in two seasons in Boulder, including 1-11 this season, the worst in the 123-year history of the program. The Buffaloes were 1-8 in the Pac-12.
The Buffaloes had just eight seniors this season and lost star receiver Paul Richardson to a leg injury before the season began. Their only win was a 35-34 last-second comeback at Washington State on Sept. 22, which came two weeks after an embarrassing loss to lower-tier Sacramento State at Folsom Field.
This year's team was the first since 1920 to go winless at home.
Embree had no head coaching experience when he was hired at his alma mater, where he was a standout tight end during the mid-1980s. He did bring 18 years of coaching experience to the program, however, including a decade as an assistant with the Buffaloes under three head coaches, Bill McCartney, Rich Neuheisel and Gary Barnett.
He returned to Boulder from the Washington Redskins, where he was completing his first season as tight ends coach.
Embree's first team went 3-10, including a 17-14 win at Utah that snapped the Buffaloes' 24-game out-of-state losing skid. But they struggled on both sides of the ball, rotating through several quarterbacks and enduring an injury epidemic on defense for the second straight season.